Are side by side comparisons good for sales?

Having access to information and the ability to make direct comparisons between options generally leads to better overall decisions — right?

Joint evaluation and single evaluation decisions can yield remarkably different outcomes. For example in one study, people were asked to decide between two dictionaries — one brand-new and containing 10,000 entries, another with 20,000 entries 
but a torn cover. Those who evaluated them side by side preferred the new fewer-entry option but those who reviewed them separately with a time gap in between preferred the shabby, larger-entry option.

The fact that decisions can be different simply due to whether we evaluate choices side by side or separately with a sufficient break in between is an important consideration when it comes to making judgements about purchases, suppliers and even new recruits. The same will be true when it comes to presenting options to customers. The studies show the importance of, where possible, avoiding the provision of detailed product specifications first and instead offering the experience first, followed by specification and information. Doing so could mean customers and clients will be more satisfied with their choices, which can only be good for loyalty.

Steve Martin is co-author of Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion.

When in doubt, add a third option.