variety is a basic human need


In my last article I addressed the attraction to certainty and the lengths they will go to in order to avoid uncertainty. In this article I will address the issue of variety – which might be seen by some as the antithesis of certainty.

Of course it is not. Certainty applied to predictable outcomes while variety applies to having a variety of options and certainty within each one of them.

Certainly variety can also involve an element of uncertainty – the kind of uncertainty that leads to surprise that in turn challenges and stimulates the senses. In this sense variety and uncertainty help us to feel alive. We enjoy uncertainty within clear parameters.

Consider for example, when your birthday comes around. While some may like the certainty of a pair of socks each year, others like to be surprised with something unexpected.

Variety should ideally involve offering options with the same level of certainty.

The need for variety might also be seen by some as flying in the face of previous articles I have written about how a small number of choices deliver a higher level of satisfaction than a larger number of choices.

It does not. Variety is not about choice so much as it is about options.

Certainly consumers are not looking for a plethora of choices. Consider for example how much easier it is and how much happier you are making a choice from a café menu with 10 items on it, compared to a Chinese restaurant where there are 200 options.

Offering variety is something different. Consider for example:

  • The holiday maker may want variety in the types of food on offer but they still seek certainty in terms of pricing, quality, quantity and service.
  • The birthday boy or girl wants a surprise gift, but they still want the certainty that it will be something they like, need and can use.
  • The wine and beer purchaser wants different brands in different environments but he or she still wants certainty in terms of consistent quality and value.

Further to this options do not always deliver variety.

Indeed, additional options often fail miserably to offer variety. So many alternative products offer no variety at all because they differ little from the alternatives.  Very often the options are the same – or at the very least – the extent to which they deliver variety is not well understood by the consumer.

Consider for example:

  • Home builders who in WA all offer the same product repackaged.
  • Land developers who offer sliced up land that is much the same in every development.
  • The taste of the food in that Chinese restaurant with 200 items on the menu.

I would also argue that variety is the easiest need to address – although this makes it no less important.


  • Variety can be a strategic competitive advantage if certainty is maintained.
  • Increasing variety is not the same as confusing consumers with choice.
  • Variety while an easier need to address remains an opportunity.
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