Special Session Summary New Insights About Consumers’ Perception and Evaluation of Product Assortments

Erica van Herpen, Tilburg University
Brian Wansink, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
[ to cite ]:
Erica van Herpen and Brian Wansink (2001) ,"Special Session Summary New Insights About Consumers’ Perception and Evaluation of Product Assortments", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, eds. Mary C. Gilly and Joan Meyers-Levy, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 257.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, 2001     Page 257



Erica van Herpen, Tilburg University

Brian Wansink, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Assortment management is one of the key issues for improving store performance (Raftery 1993), and retailers are recognizing that understanding consumer perceptions is the core of a good assortment management program. Yet, whereas research concerning the evaluation of a single product has a long history, product assortments have only recently received attention (e.g. Kahn & Lehmann 1991; Broniarczyk, Hoyer & McAlister 1998; Hoch, Bradlow & Wansink 1999; Van Herpen & Pieters 2000). This literature is only now approaching the issues of perception and evaluation in large assortments (Kahn 1999).

Perceptions of size and variety are important, and are not necessarily equal to the actual size and variety of an assortment; they may be biased by category space or presentation format (Broniarcayk et al. 1998; Hoch et al. 1999). Although research on product assortments has demonstrated that perceived assortment size and variety are not equal to actual assortment size and variety, it has neglected the underlying perceptual processes. In addition, the effect of assortment size and content on evaluations of the assortment, such as choice accuracy and effort, have not been systematically examined. The papers in this session offer new insights into these important emerging issues.

The first paper, by Madhu Vishwanathan and Brian Wansink, focuses on consumers’ perceptions of assortment size. This paper proposes that consumers do not see numbers in a linear manner, but use a general categorization above a certain point, counting #1, 2, 3, sufficient, excessive’. The implication is that consumers’ perception of assortment size is not a siple function of the number of products in the assortment, as has generally been assumed. The paper examines this effect both for grocery store assortments and for household inventories.

In the second paper, Alan Cooke and Claude Pecheux explore consumers’ perception of assortment variety. Their study focuses on assortments that are bought by consumers at one point in time. Consumers have the choice between buying duplicates of one product, and buying mixed assortments with diverse products. Cooke and Pecheux show that perceptions of assortment variety depend on the number of products, the topic of the first paper, and on the proportion in which different types of products are available. Next, they examine why consumers prefer varied assortments.

Van Herpen and Pieters investigate consumers’ expected choice success (likelihood that the assortment has a desired product) and expected choice effort. Specifically, effects of assortment size, number of attribute levels, dispersion across attribute levels, and dissociation between attributes are examined. Two studies show that increasing the expected choice success does not always mean an increase in the expected effort.

As the papers show, assortment research is of great importance to understanding and managing store assortments, to the assortments or bundles of products that are bought by consumers, and to the pantry stocks at consumers’ home. The implications are across a broad range of research areas, including store assortment research, variety seeking, consumer stockpiling, and perceptual processes.


Broniarczyk, Susan M., Wayne D. Hoyer, and Leigh McAlister, 1998, "Consumers’ Perceptions of the Assortment Offered in a Grocery Category: The Impact of Item Reduction", Journal of Marketing Research, 35 (May), 166-176.

Hoch, Stephen J., Eric T. Bradlow, and Brian Wansink, 1999, "The Variety of an Assortment", Marketing Science, 18, 527-546.

Kahn, Barbara E., 1999, "Introduction to the Special Issue: Assortment Planning", Journal of Retailing, 75, 289-293.

Kahn, Barbara E., and Donald R. Lehmann, 1991, "Modeling Choice Among Assortments", Journal of Retailing, 67, 274-299.

Raftery, Dan, 1993, "Trim the Dead Wood", Progressive Grocer, 42 (September), 42-43.

Van Herpen, Erica, and Rik Pieters, 2000, "Assortment Variety: Attribute- versus Product-Based", working paper, Tilburg University.