Business, Life, My Opinion

How much Choice? My Deciding Factors

I’ve now reached the point in my soap making business when I have to get real about choice. As much as I would love to make and stock 60 types of soap my inner CEO is saying “are you totally sure?”

The drive to create, experiment and reach the nirvana of soap making has to eventually be tempered with the good sense and restraint needed to actually run a successful business! How much, how little, customer demand, my own creative satisfaction are all factors, however, the critical question is “what’s best for the bottom line?”

From my perspective there are three important things to consider when pondering this dilemma that plagues many a small business owner.

  • What keeps my customers happy?

For the most part I would say that my regular and on-line customers are satisfied with the choices of soap that are offered. I do get special requests and when these arise I do my best to accommodate. I offer seasonal soap which adds interest and variety. Ultimately, although I may have as many as 24 soaps to choose from there are 10 or 12 kinds that prevail in year-round popularity. Overall, it seems that my awesome customers are pretty good with the status quo on choice.

When I am at markets customers are drawn to the variety and the choices however, I have no method to determine the impact of having more or less than 20 + soaps on display. An observation for further study.

  • What does the evidence say?

Consulting the evidence on choice was in order and there is considerable research to be found with one of the primary studies conducted in 2000 when psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published the ‘Jam Study’. On one day, shoppers at an upscale food market saw a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam. Those who sampled the spreads received a coupon for $1 off any jam. On another day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of the jam were on display. The large display attracted more interest than the small one. But when the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display. This phenomenon has been replicated many time since and is now known as the Paradox of Choice. So, I have now learned that less is more…right? It would seem that my experiences so far with offering choice maybe consistent with the research.

  • What is the prevailing soap making practice?

With my own rapid research, I searched soap making websites and Etsy shops to see how choice plays out in the soap world. What I noticed was remarkable – there is no prevailing practice! I found soap makers with as many as 55 and as few as 10 variety of soaps for sale. With little guidance from my rapid review I reflected on and ultimately decided that like so many things in life; it’s a balance.

As much as I love the R&D of soap-making I admit that it may be time to take a critical look at the variety of soaps. Protecting my own capacity for the business, keep my costs manageable and the quality of my products high figure into my decision making. Maybe the benefit of adopting a less is more stance when it comes to choice in business will have unintended consequences such as better CQI with the products that I have now, less pressure on customers to manage choice overload and improved sales.

I feel this way now but when the urge comes to make a more baby soap, dog soap, patchouli soap, vegan soap, palm free soap, lard-based soap or use a new fragrance oil, essential oil, colourant, herbal infusion or new swirl technique I shall have to show restraint. Not that this will stop but I will be more judisous in my planning.

In the end, reflecting on this dilemma makes me realize that I am progressing further away from the ‘hobby’ of soap making and more toward the ‘business’ of soap making – and that’s definitely a good thing. – C –

Refernce: Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. R. (2000). When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(6), 995-1006.

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