We live in an unprecedented era in terms of choices: information, places, products, services, lifestyles – at no other time in human history has there been such a variety!
‘Choice’ is the purest expression of free will. The freedom to choose allows us to model our lives exactly as we want it (as long as we have the resources to do it, of course).
But it should be remembered that on the other side of choice is sacrifice; choosing something inherently means giving up something else, something that you might want tomorrow or next week, which will not be available unless we grasp it immediately.
Marketers, salespeople and entrepreneurs have always sought to ‘enter the customer’s head’ and better understand why they buy a certain product and not another, go in a certain room and not another, or accept a certain professional and not another.
No one has been able to give definitive answers to this, however, two decades of research provides us with some interesting information about the elements that come into play.
In an enlightening account Dr. Sheena lyengar, a professor at Columbia Business School, described the challenge of “choice overdose” in one of her lectures. She described it as a customer’s lowered propensity to purchase ‘the choice’ in the presence of too many options.
Numerous tests were performed to delve deeper into the subject – from the observation of buyer behavior in supermarkets to the inclination to buy insurance policies – and the results give us a lot to think about. If, on one hand, potential customers are lured by multiple offerings and availability, on the other hand, fewer potential buyers actually convert in these circumstances.
Unbelievable but true, the first suggestion to facilitate a decision-making process is to ensure that the commercial offers are balanced. Not sparse, mind you, but definitely not dispersive.
“Less is more,” says a well-known adage and it has never been more valid than in present times.
Investing Time and Energy in the Right Kind of Decisions
There’s another consideration that seems to be confirmed by another aspect: several studies show the increase in brain stress level due to the necessity to make continuous decisions every day, whether they are simple or more complicated and laden with responsibility. We know about some well-known figures (such as Barrack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Carrie Donovan or Karl Lagerfeld) – aware of the importance of not losing essential energy in making ‘small decisions’ – opting to dress almost always in the same way, saving precious time and energy for other more important choices.
In summary, burying a proposed user with multiple choices, whether it is a restaurant menu or a presentation of hundreds of corporate services, and then leaving him with ‘decision-fatigue’ is neither an effective nor a wise strategy.
Categorize your product segments
A great way to get prevent ‘decision-fatigue’ is categorization: an offer to enter into a limited number of easily understandable logical boxes – for the customer, not for us – makes the whole process smoother.
Returning to the supermarket, how difficult would it be to go shopping in the absence of categorization? And how difficult if the chosen categories (to divide the products) do not provide any immediate information to the buyer?
Graduate to more complex ideas … slowly
The next progressive step is to proceed to the complexity gradually. Take the instance of a German car company that offered its customers the ability to fully customize their cars. However, in the beginning, it only presented them with a limited number of options, which were gradually increased to make the customization more detailed and personal. This prevented the company from scaring its customers away and helped it to reduce the dropout rate at the time of negotiations.
To conclude, the choices are never completely rational, nor do they necessarily maximize an objective value for everyone. While we cannot exactly now for sure what may trigger the spring – the contents of the report, the ability to establish a contact or to communicate a sequence – what we do know is that it is important to deepen the psychological component and how not to take anything for granted!