New products are offered every day in the marketplace and marketers spend billions of dollars to convince consumers to add them to their shopping bags. However, consumers usually prefer to stick with their usual product, and do not want to introduce variety in their patterns of consumption. For example, consumers want to eat the same breakfast every morning, and it is difficult to convince them to introduce different products that would vary their breakfast routine. Sticking with the few known products is particularly important for those marketers that try to upsell their products, or that would like to move consumer preferences toward a more profitable offering. So:

  • When do consumers prefer variety?
  • What marketers can do to introduce variety in consumers’ preferences?
  • What are the consequences of variety seeking?


Monthly Consumer Discoveries is a Monthly newsletter that brings you the most interesting updates in consumer behavior research.




Stimulation causes variety-seeking behaviors

Consumers are continuously facing difficult purchase decisions: what brand is the best? Which products better suits my needs? Is the costly option worth the money? These questions stimulate consumers, but they also make them face uncertainty and risk. To reduce uncertainty, consumers develop routine purchase patterns. They stick to a brand or product, and they become loyal customers. However, routine purchases may become boring and induce customers to a situation of under-stimulation. The solution is seeking variety to introduce some stimulation.

Customer stimulation is an arousing psychological state that makes people activated. Consumers do not like to be under-stimulated (i.e., bored) or over-stimulated (e.g., overly elated), and they prefer a middle ground of stimulation. Variety seeking is a way in which consumers can escape boredom and achieve a middle level of stimulation, but too much variety can create over-stimulation. For example, changing the type of bagel one eats every morning can be stimulating, but changing both the bagel and the coffee type every day can be too much.

It should be noted that variety-seeking can make people choose also the least preferred option, just for sake of variety. In a repeated consumption situation, sometimes consumers vary and buy products that they do not like, just because they had enough of the product that they like. However, consumers will switch back to the optimal offer once the variety desire has been fulfilled.


Perception of others’ variety-seeking

When consumers think about others’ consumption experiences, they overestimate others’ variety-seeking levels. This is because when consumers observe how another person consumes a product, consumers focus just on that consumption, forgetting all the other consumption experiences the other person has every day. Therefore, when we assess other people’s boredom with a product/brand we perceive it to be much higher than our own level of boredom with the product. In an interesting study, they showed that individuals believed that others would want to change their eating patterns more frequently themselves would do. Think about it: how much would your friends want to wear a variety of clothing? And how much would you do it? Probably you are overestimating your friends’ preference for clothing variety.


Framing the offer matters

Offers can be bundles or on selections. For example, among a pool of different pens, I can offer you a bundle of two pens (even exhausting all the possible combinations), or you can choose any two pens among those available. The two offers are theoretically indifferent, but people will want more variety in the bundled case. Having to choose just one option (even if it is a bundle), makes people seek variety (and stimulation) by choosing two different pens. For example, if one asks you to choose two pens, probably you would choose two pens of the type that you prefer the most. But if you are constrained by just one choice among bundle offers, you may prefer the bundle offer with more variety.


Physiological effects: time of the day

Consumers’ circadian rhythm changes people’s natural levels of stimulation from morning to evening, affecting variety-seeking behavior. While people want low stimulation and variety in the morning, over the day they become more and more seeking stimulation and variety. Studies show that while in the morning there is a low variety-seeking behavior, in the evening people want more variety. Think about the meals: do you change every day what you eat for breakfast or dinner?


Consequences for marketers:

  • When you offer consumers to switch to another product or brand, do not ask them to change too much. Changing one brand of razor blade will be enough, do not ask them also to change their shaving cream.
  • Offer variety to your most loyal customers. Offering variety will prevent people to seek it in other brands. Particularly for products that enter in people’s routines, offer some variations and innovations that go along with your best-selling product. People will fulfill their need for variety within your brand and not with your competitors.
  • If a loyal customer goes to a competitor do not worry too much. Variety-seeking theory shows that people want to change and that sometimes they even buy options that are not the best for them.
  • When you are marketing gift items, you may want to offer uncommon brands or variations of the usual product. Consumers overestimate how other people enjoy receiving as a gift a foreign brand of a razor blade.
  • Try bundling your best seller with other products (possibly more profitable). Bundling will make people more willing to try new things and possibly switch their preferences to more profitable items.
  • Focus on variety-centered promotions in the evening, and lower investment in variety-focused promotions during the morning. For example, quantity deals may be more profitable in the morning than in the evening, because people want more of the same in the morning.


Take home message

Variety seeking is driven by the need for stimulation in consumers. People want to change sometimes, and there are external factors like the framing of the offer or the period of the day that change people’s willingness to vary their consumption patterns.


Monthly Consumer Discoveries is a Monthly newsletter that brings you the most interesting updates in consumer behavior research.



Bonus: fertility in women and variety

Marketing studies have rarely studied how women’s menstrual cycle affect their consumption decision. However, psychology showed that women seek more different partners while ovulating. Interestingly, this is extendable also to consumption preferences. Women seek more variety in consumption options when they are in their ovulating period. Ovulation makes women in a mindset where they seek different options in men, and this mindset affects also how much variety they want in consumption experiences. So, if you know your wife is ovulating, try some new cuisine style for dinner.



Menon, S., & Kahn, B. E. (1995). The impact of context on variety seeking in product choices. Journal of Consumer Research22(3), 285-295.

Choi, J., Kim, B. K., Choi, I., & Yi, Y. (2006). Variety-seeking tendency in choice for others: Interpersonal and intrapersonal causes. Journal of Consumer Research32(4), 590-595.

Gullo, K., Berger, J., Etkin, J., & Bollinger, B. (2019). Does time of day affect variety-seeking?. Journal of Consumer Research46(1), 20-35.

Mittelman, M., Andrade, E. B., Chattopadhyay, A., & Brendl, C. M. (2014). The offer framing effect: Choosing single versus bundled offerings affects variety seeking. Journal of Consumer Research41(4), 953-964.

Durante, K. M., & Arsena, A. R. (2015). Playing the field: The effect of fertility on women’s desire for variety. Journal of Consumer Research41(6), 1372-1391.




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