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Too Many Choices Paralyze Buyers

Many people believe that if a little is good, more is better. Instead of focusing on what their market wants, they offer an extensive array of options, thinking that they will let the market decide. However, in the world of online sales, people are in a hurry and will not wade through too many options.

This approach of letting people decide with their wallets may seem like a good idea. The actuality is that most people will shut down and make no decision at all when faced with too many options. The result is that a wider selection will result in lower total sales volume.

The psychology of this is that people will compare each alternative in an attempt to make the best choice. With too many choices, people become overwhelmed and frustrated. They put off making the decision, thinking that they will come back when they are less pressed for time. Usually, they don’t come back, so the sale is lost.

How do people typically make a decision? This is usually a simple three-step process:

  •    Considering what they need
  •    Looking at what is available
  •    Comparing the options

The decision difficulty increases exponentially as the number of options increase. This is illustrated in the now-famous jam study.

In the 1990s, Dr. Sheena Iyengar, a business professor at Columbia University, did a study at Draeger’s, an upscale supermarket. Taste samples of a British jam were offered. When presented with six types of jams, 30 percent of the shoppers purchased the product. When presented with 24 types of jams, only 3 percent of the people made a purchase.

This type of study has been repeated with many products and services, all with similar results. Studies include 401(k) investments and Medicare prescription drug options. Online Sales Decisions

How many choices should you offer? To some degree, this depends on what you are selling, but it is usually best to simplify the decision-making process with the three-option rule. The human mind can easily comprehend and organize three variations, so people can easily make a choice when given three options. On your website, keep it as simple as 1-2-3. Try to limit your visitor’s decisions to a maximum of three. 

A variation of this is a 3×3 decision tree. Offer three initial choices, followed by another choice of three after the initial choice is made.

Even if your online sales model does not fit with the three-option rule, you can simplify, group, format and filter information to visually simplify the decision-making process.

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