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The Influence of Assortment Structure on Perceived Variety and Consumption Quantities

Kahn, Barbara E. and Brian Wansink (2004). The Influence of Assortment Structure on Perceived Variety and Consumption Quantities. Journal of Consumer Research, 30(4), 519–533. doi 10.1086/380286 

A total of six lab and field studies were conducted to show that the structure of an assortment regulates a consumer's perception of actual variety. Serving as a benchmark measuring how many items should be consumed, this perception of variety in turn influences consumption quantity. Moreover, even when actual variety is fixed at a constant level, a high perception of variety tends to lead to greater consumption than the case where perception of variety is lower.

Our findings show that the perceived variety of an assortment can also influence consumption even when actual variety is unchanged. Furthermore, altering an assortment's structure (its organization or symmetry) can increase or decrease consumption depending on the size of the assortment. In our studies, when actual variety is increased in a disorganized way as opposed to in an organized and more easily appreciated way, the impact on consumption is reduced. Furthermore, we found that assortment structures might also provide consumption norms that guide consumers in selecting consumption quantities. When assortment size or number of choices offered was large, those who selected from organized assortments appeared to use this characteristic as a cue to consume more. On the other hand, when the assortment was disorganized, neither size nor number of options offered influenced consumption quantities. The results also point to factors other than actual variety that can be attributed to increased consumption.