A “Wide” Variety: Effects of Horizontal Versus Vertical Display on Assortment Processing, Perceived Variety, and Choice

Xiaoyan Deng, Barbara E. Kahn, H. Rao Unnava, and Hyojin Lee
Article Snapshot
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Key Takeaways

​Horizontal (vs. vertical) displays are easier to process because they match the human binocular vision field (which is horizontal in direction).

People are able to take in more information from horizontal (vs. vertical) displays in a given time leading to the perception of more variety.

People will choose more variety from a horizontal (vs. vertical) display.

Article Snapshot​s: Executive Summaries from the Journal of Marketing Research​​​​

​Horizontal display of assortment options leads to a higher level of variety perception and variety seeking compared with vertical display of the same options.

Research

A fundamental visual cue that is widely used by merchants to attract attention, direct movement, and influence behavior is the use of horizontal versus vertical displays. However, their effects on consumer information processing and decision making are largely unknown to managers. We hypothesize that this visual factor (horizontal vs. vertical display or blocking) will influence how consumers process the assortment, which in turn will affect how much variety they perceive, and subsequently how much variety they choose.

Method

We presented Halloween trick-or-treaters, college students, and mall shoppers product assortments that were arranged either horizontally or vertically and asked them to choose from the assortment. In one study, we even tracked participants' eye movements as they browsed the assortment.  

Findings

We found that people chose more variety and, if the number of options chosen was allowed to vary, more options overall from the horizontal compared with the vertical display. We also found that this was because, when time was constrained, they were able to browse the horizontally (vs. vertically) arranged options more fluenlty and efficiently, leading to a perception of more variety in the horizontal (vs. vertical) display. When time was not constrained, they browsed horizontal (vs. vertical) options more extensively.  

Implications

Assortment variety is among the top three drivers, along with location and price, of retail patronage. Our findings suggest that when variety is positive (and not contributing for example to choice overload), assortments designed for horizontal (vs. vertical) scanning can promote increased perceptions of assortment variety. Higher perceived assortment variety can increase share of wallet and consumption by increasing purchase quantities. Consumers should realize that assortment design could be used as a nudge to influence their purchase behavior.


Questions for the Classroom

  • Should retailers arrange their product assortments horizontally or vertically?
  • As a consumer, which assortment, horizontal versus vertical, is easier for you to browse?
  • As a consumer, which assortment, horizontal versus vertical, will lead you to choose more variety from the assortment?


Article Citation

Xiaoyan Deng, Barbara E. Kahn, H. Rao Unnava, and Hyojin Lee (2016), “A ‘Wide’ Variety: Effects of Horizontal Versus Vertical Display on Assortment Processing, Perceived Variety, and Choice,” Journal of Marketing Research, 52 (5), 682-698.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jmr.13.0151​

 

Xiaoyan Deng is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University (e-mail: deng.84@osu.edu).

Barbara E. Kahn is Patty and Jay H. Baker Professor; Director, Jay H. Baker Retailing Center; and Professor of Marketing, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (e-mail: kahn@wharton.upenn.edu).

H. Rao Unnava is Dean and Professor, Graduate School of Management, University of California, Davis (e-mail: runnava@ucdavis.edu).

Hyojin Lee is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, San Jose State University (e-mail: hyojin.lee@sjsu.edu).


Author Bio:

 
Xiaoyan Deng, Barbara E. Kahn, H. Rao Unnava, and Hyojin Lee
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