Choice Paralysis in ecommerce

By 16th August 2013Ecommerce

A phrase that has come up recently in a few blogs is Choice Paralysis. Ironically, there are a lot of phrases which mean the same thing:

  • Paradox of Choice
  • Analysis Paralysis
  • Overchoice
  • The Paradox of Too Many Options
  • De-motivative Choice
  • Choice Overload

These are all ways of saying ‘don’t overwhelm people with choice’, as it can have a negative effect on what you are trying to achieve. This principle applies in sales, support, marketing and can be useful in a lot of other situations.

Choice Paralysis affects sales on the web by overwhelming customers with too many choices to the point that they either can’t see the wood through the trees in a reasonable time before moving on to check another website.

  • Too many categories to navigate through
  • A huge amount of very similar products without the differences highlighted
  • Confusing or complicated product customisation or options

What’s wrong with having lots of options?

If the website has a huge list of categories to choose from, the customer can become bored and demotivated trying to find what they are looking for. Where as by classifying the categories into a small number of groups which then expand out to provide the full range of options, the customer doesn’t feel as overwhelmed.

See below how Amazon has reduced it’s full category list to 10 items, a couple of features, and then a link to their ‘Full Shop Directory’. This is because Amazon know that most of their customers are going to be looking in these 10 categories, so why promoted anything else?

Another example of Choice Paralysis can be found in product listings, but for this I will use a real world example, a supermarket study conducted by Columbia University which has been quoted all over the web. In the study, customers were given the choice of 24 types of jam and only 3% of them purchased one, whereas when presented with only 6 options, 30% decided to purchase.

This is down to clear differentiation between the choices, allowing customers to be confident in their choice, and stick to it. Even on a product as trivial as jam, an overwhelming number of options is enough to put customers off, so when that is scaled up to something of real cost to the customer, they are even more cautious in finalising a checkout process.

So, what is the solution?

The main thing to concentrate on is providing to the majority of you customers. Know where most of your customers spend their time on your website, and where you get most of your sales. Make sure that these are the categories that are promoted, and easy to access. This can be achieved by simplifying your category listings, and making sure that the navigation to a deep level category is natural and the customer isn’t waiting, or becoming frustrated.

The same can be applied to products, if you have a huge selection of products, identify the ones that are the most popular using Analytics, and promote those. Identify the differences between the products and do expect the customer to know.

Finally, there is a general rules of 7±2 which has been mentioned in other blogs and articles about the subject. My advice would be to approach it from the point of view of the majority of your customers. If it benefits them, you are going down the right track.