We Love Choices Until We Have to Choose

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Module 2: How to Plan a Website That Sells
Section 4: A Blueprint for a Website That Sells
Post 1: We Love Choices Until We Have to Choose

We love choices. Choices give us a sense of power.

Psychologists so say. So do economists. Marketers have taken note.

We’ve witnessed a perpetual increase in our options. Steven Cristol and Peter Sealey wrote about this in their book, Simplicity Marketing.

They looked at a shopper in 1970 and 1999. They each have six items on their grocery list: orange juice, bagels, Philadelphia cream cheese, Crest toothpaste, Coke and lettuce.

Pretty simple, right? But there’s a huge difference in what they see once they get to the store.

Options Options Table

A shopper in 1999 had 5 times the number of options as a consumer in 1970. Choice seems to give birth to more choice.

If he were alive today, Ben Franklin would have to change his quote. Death and taxes are still certain. So is the proliferation of choice.

Is it possible to have too many options? Yes, according to Barry Schwartz in his book, The Paradox of Choice. In it, he made a study of jam [PDF] famous.

The researchers carefully constructed a natural experiment at an upscale grocery store in an affluent community. They selected a store which had an extraordinary assortment of goods.

Then they set up a tasting booth, something which was regularly done at the store. They manned the booth on two consecutive Saturdays, neither of which was on a long weekend.

Each hour, they rotated the selection between two jam displays. In the first hour, they displayed an assortment of 24 jams (extended choice); in the second hour, they only featured 6 jams (limited choice). The next week, they reversed the order.

Their findings were striking:

60% of shoppers passing by the extended choice display stopped. However, only 3% of them made a purchase.

By contrast – only 40% stopped for the limited choice but 30% of them subsequently purchased a jar of jam.

So more shoppers were attracted to the large display. However, the small assortment created more sales.

Assuming a price of $5 per jar and 250 shoppers at each display, the larger assortment generated sales of $25 while the smaller variety produced $150!

It goes against conventional wisdom. The rule has always been to give your customer more choices. But now we’re seeing that it’s causing a problem:

Choice leads to complexity. Complexity kills sales.

It’s Hick’s Law. When we have too many options, we slow down. We delay decisions. We don’t move forward.

You’ll make more money if you filter choices for your customers. Help them understand which choice is right for them.

Stop selling to customers.
Think like their purchasing agent instead.

So think about your customers – both current and future – along you’re your products and services. And then remember this rule:

Sales are made one at a time.

With that in mind, ask the following questions for each of your product or services:

  • Is it a “lead”, an upsell or a follow-up?

First-time customers may often purchase a particular product or service. Lead with it. Don’t upsell until they’ve bought the lead. Don’t sell the follow-up until they’re a customer.

  • Does it naturally fit with other products or services?

If so, you may consider offering “bundles” of products or services rather than selling them individually.

  • Are there ways to classify it which helps make purchasing easier?

There are a number of ways to do this. For example, you may do it by level of difficulty (e.g. beginner, intermediate, advanced).

There are a number of ways to showcase your products and services in a way which helps customers make their selection. It’s really limited only by your imagination.

Just keep your ideal customers in mind. How can you help them sort through all their options?

Sample filtering

Kim and Jason from EscapeAdulthood show their products by category. But they also give the shopper the opportunity to filter by price:

Kim & Jason

Over the years, they’ve received a lot of positive feedback from their customers about this ability. It seems particularly helpful for people shopping for a gift.

How can you simplify your customer’s experience by serving as a filter? It’s especially valuable to today’s hyper-busy consumer.

Next Step

With this background, you can either go through Part 1 of the A Blueprint for a Website That Sells Guidebook or go on to the next post. (We recommend going to the Guidebook but it’s your call.)

Of course, if you do have any questions, you can simply email us at
with “BTS QUESTION” in the subject line.