Choice Closure

We're more satisfied with choices when we engage in physical acts of closure.

Research shows that when making a choice from a large range, performing physical acts of closure (shutting a menu after choosing, for example) that imply a final decision can increase satisfaction with that product. These are actions that give us confidence to “seal the deal”, as it were.

Gu, Botti & Faro (2013) Turning the page: the impact of choice closure on satisfaction. Journal of Consumer Research.

The concept of Choice Closure is based on research suggesting that we grasp abstract concepts through physical experiences (Johnson 2007). It’s inspired by psychological closure, which is basically the feeling that a life experience has concluded in some way.

And those of you who work daily on a laptop, and feel the rush of calmness that ensues after you close it at the end of the day will already understand the power of Choice Closure. Your humble writer - though happily in the middle of writing this brain gem with MacBook keenly ajar and tabs à gogo - will look forward to this ever-satisfying act in due course.

Past research has shown that after we make a choice from a number of options, we consumers experience the brain-sapping anguish of post-choice regret. We do this by comparing the product we’d chosen to the alternative options that we’d not chosen, imagining what life would’ve been like if we’d made a different choice (Zeelenberg, 1999).

However, all is not lost for those pondering such parallel universes. Luckily, the concept of Choice Closure aims to limit unfavourable comparisons between what we’d opted for and forgone, such that our satisfaction of what we’d chosen increases.

In a Choice Closure experiment conducted by researchers at the London Business School (Gu, Botti & Faro, 2013), people were asked to read a menu with 24 teas to choose from, and decide which tea they’d like to taste. They were told that once they’d chosen their tea, they wouldn’t be able to change their decision. It was found that those who were asked to close the menu after choosing their tea were more satisfied than participants who were simply asked to make a choice. And all it took was a simple physical act!

The authors of the study suggest that for Choice Closure to be effective, you’ve got to follow three key steps. Here they are:

The act of closure must be performed by the decision maker.It’s important for the decision maker to sees the physical act as a signal of completion. Therefore, the act carried out must not carry any alternative, confusing meaning.The closure must happen after the choice, and not before.

Choice Closure is going to be more effective when consumers are presented with large product ranges, as a choice paradox may be experienced in such cases. When presented with a large set of choices, settling on one option and achieving a sense of closure with this option can minimize post-choice regret. Supermarkets, know that if you thought about Choice Closure more, your customers would likely leave your stores in a more satisfied state. Short-termist price wars needn’t apply here…

Takeaways for Decision-Makers

  1. Powerful where range creates indecision Firstly, Choice Closure is an effective technique that can be applied by retail decision-makers, in cases where it’s felt that reducing the number of product choices may adversely affect business. It allows one to offer large and mid-level range sizes, whilst promoting satisfaction with products chosen amongst such ranges.
  2. Create in-store separation for closure This bias also has implications for store design. It suggests that clearly separating the billing area from the rest of the store (where other products are displayed) will help consumers gain closure more easily at the time of billing. Moreover, distinguishing one store area from the next will increase the sense of closure as customers complete the component parts of their weekly shop.
  3. A foot in the door…The cunning advertisers amongst you will want to promote your product to a consumer even after he/she has purchased a similar product from a competitor, knowing that it can inhibit closure and increase the chances of them switching to your brand for future purchases.
  4. Guiding the overwhelmed customer with their own actions For higher value goods, or in situations where the choice is potentially overwhelming for new customers, have your salesperson carefully guide the customer through the decision-making process, whilst giving them enough autonomy to create the sense of closure themselves. For example, it could be that the customer herself puts the wine bottles into the 6x carrier box after they’d been recommended by knowledgable store staff. The act of putting the wine in the box is a physical form of closure, especially when guided by a good recommendation.
  5. An alternative example…It might be that the customer, when in a new car showroom, is in control of the flipping of the book after page-specific colour scheme decisions have been clearly outlined by the salesperson. Also think about the design of this book so as to guide the customer through it in a sequential, closure-building way. The possibilities are endless. Just make sure you follow the 3-step process above.

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  • Aspirational membership schemes and belonging The category size bias provides a credible explanation for why we human beings tend to associate with large groups that are viewed favourably by society. Being part of a large and “desirable” social group can make others believe that we also possess the many qualities of its members. For small businesses, it suggests that forming or being a part of a consortium or large and high quality networking group can dramatically elevate your brand image.
  • Communicating category sizes to nudge effectively Highlighting the differences between the large and small categories is highly likely to enhance the effect of the Category Size Bias. For instance, for software companies, stating that there are 10 features in the premium version versus 4 in the free version will help nudge a decision towards the premium version

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  1. The findings from this braingem can nudge better healthcare choices, encourage consumption of a given product, and lead to more confident consumer decisions.
  2. We mistakenly believe that items in larger categories have a higher probability of being picked than ones in smaller categories, despite all items having an equal chance of being picked.
  3. We’ll spend or gamble more money on items put in larger categories.
  4. We’re more likely to take action from tasks when they’re in a bigger list, over a smaller list.
  5. We once we put something into a group, we perceive it to adopt all the characteristics of that group. This suggests that small companies should foster alliances with similarly-principled, more established companies.
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