Choice Paralysis

Maybe you’ve heard it called choice paralysis, analysis paralysis, or overchoice. Whatever you call it, if you overwhelm your customer with too many choices – they end up not making a choice at all.

You may be tempted to give your customers a wide range of options, so they’ll be able to find just the right fit – but offering too many choices can make the customer not buy anything at all, and if they do buy, they’re often less satisfied with their selection.

There is a famous jam study, that goes like this:

One day, researcher Sheena Iyengar set up a display table at an upscale food market with a variety of jams. Anyone who tried a sample received a coupon for $1 off any jam.

Every few hours, they would switch between a selection of 24 jams, or a pared-down selection of 6 jams.

60% of shoppers who walked by the large display sampled at least one jam, while only 40% tried a jam at the smaller display. On average, shoppers tried two flavors of jelly regardless of how many types were on display.

And now for the kicker, although the larger display attracted more people than the small one. 30% of people who had seen the small assortment went on to buy jam, while only 3% of the people who had seen the large display went on to buy a jam. People who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as the people who saw the small display. 

By limiting the number of choices, they were able to sell more!

But no choice is just as bad

On the flip side, there is the “Single Option Aversion.” Customers are less likely to buy if they only have one option.

In an experiment by Daniel Mochon, consumers were asked to purchase a DVD player. When only a single DVD player was shown, only 10% of the potential buyers purchased. But when two different brands were shown, 34% agreed to purchase the original DVD player, and another 32% agreed to purchase the second DVD player.

When you show people two options, they automatically assess which is the best choice for them. But if there are no options, the buyer won’t have the confidence they are making a good decision.

Choice is good, but too much choice is bad... Why your website is losing sales.Click To Tweet

So how does this translate to designing websites that make sales?

Whenever I start designing a new website for a customer, I make sure I understand what a successful interaction on their website would be.

If it’s a clothing company, a successful interaction with their website would be making a purchase.

If it’s a restaurant, a successful interaction would be getting directions to their location.

Or if they are a graphic designer, a successful interaction would be filling out the contact form on the website.

As I build out their website, I make sure all paths lead to their main money-making page.

I want to you take a look at your website, If I go to one of your blog posts, is it still clear what you do for your customers? Or have you created a Blog Blackhole? I see this happen all the time, a business has an amazing blog, it’s full of great content, it’s getting traffic, but none of that traffic is turning into sales because there is no call-to-action or indication of what this business does.

If your menu only has generic terms such as:

Home | About | Blog | Contact 

You’re probably missing out on conversions from your blog.

If you were a coach and those same menu items were:

Home |  About Coach Andrea | Advice Blog | Book your First Coaching Session 

It’s much easier for your customers to tell what services you offer, and if you’ve impressed someone with the content your blog post, you’re one step closer to making a sale.

The first step is to make it clear what decisions are available

Narrow down the choices

There are over 87,000 drink selections available at Starbucks! If you saw a list of every single option listed in alphabetical order, it might be impressive, but you’d most likely feel overwhelmed.

If you take a look at the menu at your local Starbucks, You’ll see it broken down into easy categories something like this:

  • Espresso
  • Coffee
  • Iced Tea
  • Cold Brew and Iced Coffee
  • Frappucinos and Blended Beverages

Within each category, the drinks are ordered by how similar they are to one another. For example, White Mocha is listed just below Mocha.

Three size options are listed for most drinks, tall, grade, and venti (Notice how even though most Starbucks offer a smaller option, they don’t list it on the board)

Their menus also have a section that gives a hint at the types of customizations you can ask for:

  • Add flavor
  • Milk substitutes
  • Espresso shot
  • Try it sparkling

There are a few things you can learn from the Starbucks Menu:

If you have a wide range of products or services, find a way to break it down into simple groups, and then see if you can break those categories into even smaller groups.

Don’t feel like you need to list every single option. If you offer custom designs or custom services, trying to list every single thing you can offer will not only be a waste of your time, it can overwhelm your customers and send them packing. You want to provide enough information to help your customers be confident in their decision without slowing down their decision making.

Encourage fast decisions

The longer your customers take to make a decision, the less confidence they have when they make a choice. Encouraging your website visitors to make a decision quickly can help them avoid choice paralysis.

There are several techniques you can implement, to get customers to make a decision quickly, but you need to be careful.

The first method is to create some sort of countdown. Offer a limited time pricing, or restrict when a consumer can buy a product. This method works well if the alternative to making a decision is low risk.

For example, you’ll see countdown timers or timeframe restrictions used for holiday deals.

The risk with this method is that a customer may feel pressured into making a decision they are unhappy with which can damage your reputation.

Days
Hours
Minutes
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Random timer…

The other way to encourage fast decisions is to offer an unbeatable price. Make the decision a no-brainer. The problem with this method is that it’s often a race to the bottom, and you may end up offering a price that’s unsustainable as your business continues to grow.

Start with Small Commitments

If you sell a high ticket item, your customers may not make a decision the first time they visit your website, but you don’t want them to forget about you by the time they’re ready to make a commitment.

If you can start a relationship with your customer before they’re ready to buy – you’ll be much more likely to make the sale.

Beautiful Home

Take real estate agents as an example. Most people don’t impulse buy a home. It can take years for a buyer to save enough money and have all their ducks in a row. But a savvy real estate agent could put a free downloadable guide of “What you need to do before buying your first home” to start a relationship with a buyer who will be ready to buy in the future.

Make the decision for them

There are two common methods I commonly see on websites where the website makes the decision for the customer.

One is to show what decisions other customers have bought. Sometimes you’ll see an option such as “Best Seller” or you’ll see something like “People who viewed this item often bought this other item.”

This strategy works well when there are many items to choose from.

Another method is to allow your website users to reach out to a real person who will help guide them through the decision making process. This method works especially well if there are lots of customizations available on your product, or if you’re selling a product with lots of technical specs that might be confusing to the end user.

Back to you

There’s no size fits all when it comes to website design, but a good website will help you generate business. If you’re getting traffic to your website, but no-one is buying take a step back and see if there are any ways you can help your customers through their decision-making process. Most websites use many of the methods mentioned in this post, so don’t be afraid to mix methods.

Katie Davidson

Digital marketing strategist, and website designer. My mission is to help business owners succeed with digital marketing strategies that work.

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Katie Davidson Owner of Vireo Media

Hi, I'm Katie!

I’m passionate about helping your businesses succeed. Whether your ready to hire a professional, or you’re just starting out, I want to help you find the tools you need to succeed.

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