What in the World Is Wheeler’s Which

I was randomly paging through Seth Godin’s 17-pound book, “What Does It Sound Like When You Change Your Mind?“, when I came across one of his posts titled “Hobson’s choice, Occam’s razor, Wheeler’s which and the way we decide“.

I was familiar with Hobson’s Choice and Occam’s Razor, but I had never heard of Wheeler’s Which”.

Seth explained it the following way:

Wheeler’s which teaches us that the answer to “one egg or two?” is usually ‘one’, while the answer to, “do you want an egg?” is usually zero.

I still wasn’t quite grasping, so I went searching, and here is what I found.

Elmer Wheeler was a resident of Dallas, TX who lost his job as a newspaper reporter during the 1929 Depression. His boss said all he needed were salesmen. Subsequently, Wheeler declared, “I am a salesman.”

While Wheeler is best known for coining the phrase, “Don’t Sell the Steak–Sell the Sizzle”, he also developed what has become known as Wheeler’s Which.

The essence of Wheeler’s Which is that the customer should always be given a choice between something and something, not a choice between something and nothing.

Here’s an example.

Back in the 1930s a large Nw York City department store had instructed their clerks to ask every customer “if” they wanted an egg to go with their malted milk purchase. Some said yes but many said no. Soda fountains contributed considerably to the profit structure as well as to the flow of traffic in the store. A&S hored Wheeler to try and increase sales at the soda fountain.

Malted milks, which sold for fifteen cents, were an extremely popular item in those depression years. One of the things they added to malted milks was eggs. The price of each egg was an extra nickel, and since A&S bought them for fifteen cents a dozen, the more eggs they sold in malted milks, the greater their profit.

When a customer ordered a malted milk, Wheeler taught the clerks to hold up two eggs, smile, and ask, “One egg or two?” In the vast majority of cases, though they had not planned to order even one egg, the customer would take the easy way out and say, “One.”

As the story goes, the entire stock of 800 dozen eggs were sold within a week!

So the point of the example is that people should always be given a choice between something and something, not a choice between something and nothing.

So let me take a shot at it.

Which of my older posts would you like to read:

See what I did there?!

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