Shopping is my guilty pleasure. Very few things get me going like the thrill of discovering new places to eat, online vendors, bookstores, etc and being able to find the item(s) in their product line that serve me best.
Two days ago, I tried to get some brownies online and went scrolling through a baker’s Instagram feed only to discover that there were over a dozen variants. As I moved from option to option, analyzing each flavor with its catchy color and deliciously sounding name, I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to try and ultimately ended up exiting the page without making a purchase.
What happened? I was overwhelmed, so I ended up not making any choice.
But the real question is why? Shouldn’t lots of options be good for customers? Isn’t that what people want? More options, so they can get everything they could possibly ever need from you and never have to go to your competition?
Businesses have historically operated under the belief that by increasing options,shoppers will have more incentive to purchase and the more choices people have, the better.
However, studies today are showing that this relationship is a lot more complicated and too many choices can be bad for sales. Just like my experience with the treats shop, a large number of choices can be attractive, but when it comes down to making a purchase, too many options can make decision making difficult and lead to fewer sales.
Truth is that the real enemy of sales isn’t your competition, its consumer inertia.
Inertia, defined as inactivity or refusal to take action, happens as a direct result of confusion over what to purchase. Excessive choice causes stress which ultimately results in analysis-paralysis: the feeling of being so overwhelmed with information that the consumer simply chooses to do one of two (undesirable) actions:
- Give up and not purchase anything at all
- Buy, but feel less satisfied with their selection because they wonder about the trade-off(s) they’ve had to make
Offering too many options isn’t limited to product lines. The problem of too many choices also plays out with sharing icons on websites, too many offers shared via a single email or social media post, and complicated home pages that make you wonder where exactly you’re supposed to look (I’m looking at you Yahoo!).
Improving your chances at making a sale starts from simplifying the decision making process by limiting the amount of work the consumer has to put into weighing options. Shifting your businesses orientation toward decision making simplicity and helping consumers confidently complete the purchase journey is a small but profound change, one that typically requires businesses to flex new muscles and rethink how they craft their product line and communication.
If you absolutely must have so many options, you need to go a step further and include buying guides containing sufficient information that lists the features of each one and reduces their confusion about the “best” choice.
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