Decisions, Decisions, Decisions… How do you know what to do?
By Rose Matthews, Senior Customer Experience Consultant
June 27th | 2011 By
It’s a subject that’s been studied extensively. In the year 2000, researchers at Columbia University investigated how the amount of choice available to a person affects their ability to make and feel good about their decisions. Best known of these experiments involved asking customers of a delicatessen to sample different flavours of jam. Customers in Group A were offered an exciting array of 24 various jams to taste, while those in Group B were shown a more limited 6 flavours. The result was that, although more people were attracted to the large display, just 3% of Group A chose a pot of jam to buy. Meanwhile 30% of the restricted Group B walked away pleased with their purchase.
The research even extends into sociology, where theories are abound that human beings given too much freedom and flexibility in their daily lives actually struggle to choose a path and are less satisfied with the one they finally take, fearing that it may not have been the best available.
As fascinating as all that is, how can we relate it to an online business? Well it’s all about how you display your products and services. Retailers know that, given a range of similar products, very few will buy the cheapest and only a small number will buy the most expensive – the vast majority will choose a comfortable middle-ground between price and quality. In fact, it’s been proven that introducing a high-end product to your portfolio can dramatically increase the popularity of your next most expensive option.
We’ve also seen repeatedly in AB and multivariate tests that a webpage with too much information, too many buttons or too much general noise can confuse the customer and damage user flow through the site.
So if all this is true, how do we make sure that people are able to reach a conclusion? Show a customer too few choices and they’ll feel constrained, but show them too many and they’ll have no idea which way to turn. Could you introduce new options to widen a very small range? If you have a lot of options can you hide them, displaying only your most disparate products until the customer chooses to search further? The balance is different for every organisation but, with a little experimentation, it won’t be hard to find.