Why Giving Too Many Choices Could Be Hurting Your Conversions (And How To Avoid It)
Given the vast number of products and services available online, you might assume it would be easy for consumers to find exactly what they’re looking for.
But while a vast selection does guarantee there’s “something for everyone”, being faced with too many options can actually make it more difficult for consumers to choose.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re shopping for a new pair of headphones. You go to Amazon, intent on quickly finding and buying a set.
You enter “headphones” into the search box, and you get 3,836,630 results.
Looking in the sidebar, you see you can narrow these results down by choosing from:
· Audio headphones
· On-ear headphones
· Over-ear headphones
· DJ headphones
· Earbud & in-ear headphones
This is only a small sampling of the categories related to headphones. Unless you’re going in with a very specific idea of what you want (and know how to categorize it), there’s a good chance you’re going to feel some degree of discomfort over the number of products you need to choose from.
Psychologists refer to this feeling of discomfort as “choice overload” (it’s also sometimes referred to as overchoice).
There was a study published in 2000 by researchers from Columbia and Stanford that looked at how the number of choices we’re faced with impacts our purchasing behavior. They used jam — of all things — to test their hypothesis: that giving a consumer too many choices would reduce the likelihood of them making a purchase.
In an upscale grocery store, researchers put out two tables, at two different times. One contained a selection of 24 jams, while the other contained only 6. Shoppers were offered samples at each table.
Researchers wanted to know two things: Did the number of jams 1) impact how many shoppers would stop to try samples, and 2) influence how many people would buy a jar of jam.
What they found was surprising. While shoppers were more likely to stop by the table that offered the greater selection of jams, they were far more likely to make a purchase at the table with less selection.
Only 3% of shoppers who stopped at the table containing 24 jars made a purchase, whereas 30% of those who stopped at the table with 6 jars did.
The study’s authors note: “The findings from this study show that an extensive array of options can at first seem highly appealing to consumers, yet can reduce their subsequent motivation to purchase the product. Even though consumers presumably shop at this particular store in part because of the large number of selections available, having “too much” choice seems nonetheless to have hampered their later motivation to buy.”
In other words, while consumers may initially be drawn to many choices, they’re more likely to buy when offered fewer choices.
Is less always more?
While the study above is certainly compelling, a 2010 meta-analysis of research on this phenomenon found that the concept of choice overload may not be so cut and dry.
While the researchers don’t deny that choice overload can exist (and does exist, in certain situations), not all studies have confirmed the original findings.
Looking at all the research done to date, the researchers found that certain preconditions may actually make more choices preferable. Unfortunately, they couldn’t say exactly what those preconditions are.
This leaves business owners and online marketers with a very pertinent question: when is it beneficial to offer “less” rather than “more”?
When less is more: 4 practical takeaways for increasing conversions
While we can’t know all the situations that can potentially lead to choice overload, we do know some. Here are 4 “less is more” strategies you can test on your own site.
1. Landing pages: Offer one call to action
It’s well known in digital marketing that landing pages should contain one (and only one) call to action (CTA). One study from the Marketing Experiments blog showed a 357% increase in sales when switching from multiple CTAs to just one on a page.
Instead of overwhelming your visitors with options, show them exactly what you want them to do. Make it easy for them: make sure your CTA is simple, prominent and extremely relevant to the content of your page.
2. Offer fewer social media share buttons
How many social share buttons are ideal? We don’t know, and I’d imagine this varies depending on your site and industry.
However, one experiment by Neil Patel seemed to indicate that 3 buttons were optimal….at least for his audience. When he increased his social share buttons from the usual 3 up to 5, he saw a 29% decrease in social sharing.
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to include buttons for sites you’re actively present on, and where you know your target market hangs out. Cutting out buttons that aren’t likely going to get used anyway may just increase your overall social shares.
3. Include fewer form fields
It’s well known that asking your visitors for too much information results in higher abandonment rates. While this phenomenon isn’t caused by offering too many choices, per se, it is a great example of when “less is more”.
According to this infographic, optimal conversions happen when visitors are required to fill out 2–3 fields. Additionally, reducing the number of fields to 10 or less increases conversions by 120%, and reducing to 4 or less increases conversions by 160%.
When in doubt, try reducing the number of required fields you use on forms. Remember, you can always ask for more info later on down the road.
4. Proper categorization allows you to offer more options without overwhelming your visitors
While listing too many products in once place can lead to choice overload, some research has found an exception to this: if your customers are coming to your site with a clear idea of what they’re looking for, they may actually prefer to have a greater number of choices.
In the meta-analysis mentioned above, the authors write: “[This research] showed that people with clear prior preferences prefer to choose from larger assortments and that, for those people, choice probability and satisfaction increased with the number of options to choose from, the opposite of choice overload.”
One way to provide the optimal conditions for visitors, regardless of whether they know what they’re looking for or not, is to provide clear navigation and categorization for your products. This will allow them to self-select based on their preferences, and help them to avoid choice overload.
Choice overload is a real phenomenon that can potentially impact your conversion rates. Unfortunately, no one can tell you the definitive number of products, services or offerings you should include on your site.
Split testing can help you determine what’s optimal in your industry, and with your audience. Proper categorization, navigation and targeted calls to action can all help minimize the risk of your visitors experiencing choice overload.
Have you experienced this phenomenon? How do you mitigate the risks of choice overload on your site? Share below!
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!