Take Care When Providing Visitors With Choice

The world we live in today is one filled with choice, the internet and other modern technologies have made it so that we have a variety of options available to us in almost every aspect of life.  Now this is a good thing right?  Having 20 odd different brands of toilet roll to choose from, what’s not to like?  And it seems that the amount of choice we have is growing day by day!  What’s so bad about that I hear you ask?  Isn’t having a wide variety of choice not only great for customers as they are more likely to find what they want but great for businesses as choice can provide for more customers?  Can you have too much choice?  These two experiments suggest you can.


So what is so bad about a wide variety of choice?

The Jam Experiment

Who doesn’t love jam?  Psychologists Iyengar, Jiang and Huberman decided to utilise peoples love of jam to carry out an experiment to see how people react when presented with varying choice.

Before the experiment they hypothesized that people become more motivated when presented with a larger number of options as they believe that they have an increased chance of finding the product that is right for them. They also went on to say:

“…the very act of making a choice from an excessive number of options might result in ‘choice overload’, in turn lessening the motivation to choose and in some cases resulting in failure to choose at all.”

The experiment they carried out consisted of having 2 separate displays of jam, one with 24 types of jam and one with 6.  They then counted the number of people that went to each display and how much jam they bought.

They found that the display that had 24 jams was approached 150% more than the other display, which at first seems to make the larger display better until you look at the sales for each one.  The 24 jam display had a conversion rate of 3% whilst the 6 jam display had a conversion rate of 30%.

The Godiva Chocolate Experiment

Again, who doesn’t love chocolate?  In this second experiment Iyengar and Lepper looked more into people’s satisfaction when presented with more choice, both during the selection process and with the choice they made.

In this experiment there were 2 groups, one was presented with a selection of 30 chocolates and one with a selection of 6 chocolates.

During the experiment they were asked to rate the level of enjoyment, difficulty and frustration they experienced throughout their decision making process.

What they discovered was that the group choosing from the selection of 30 had more enjoyment in making their selection than the other group.  But the group choosing from 6 were more satisfied with their choice and were more likely to choose it again.


So Presenting Lots of Choice is a Bad Thing?

I wouldn’t say so, having a variety of choice is something that many people have come to appreciate.  However, what you need to appreciate is that too much simultaneous choice is difficult for people to process and can lead to them not making a decision for fear of making the wrong choice.

So what can you do about it?  Certainly reducing the amount of choice you provide to people is an option, but instead, I would recommend trying to help people as much as possible to make the right choice.  To achieve this:

  • Reduce the complexity of comparing your options by reducing the number of points of comparison between your products, if you only list the important major differences as opposed to the minor superfluous ones, people will have an easier time making a decision
  • Provide an authoritative recommendation or social proof to reduce the visitors ‘responsibility of choice’
  • Provide post-purchase escape clauses such as guarantees and returns policies as this will “de-risk” the choice, making people more likely to choose

Ultimately the main consideration that you need to take into account is that many of the people that are trying to make a choice between the products and/or services that you provide aren’t likely to be experts and thus may become overwhelmed when trying to make a decision meaning that they abandon it all together.  Therefore you need to do everything you can to make the decision process as simple as possible for them.

If you have any questions about how you can make the decision process easier for your potential customers please do not hesitate to get in touch on 01480 878 510 or at [email protected]

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Nigel White
My career has given me insights into large and small businesses across many sectors. Academically, I have a MA (Strategic Marketing) and use this understanding to provide consultancy and advice to all clients I work with. Very high on my agenda: needs analysis, service, and quality.