Why giving customers too many choices can kill your sales

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Have you ever wanted to buy something, so you decide to do a little “due diligence” in order to find your best choice? Only to discover that the more you learn – the more confusing it gets to make a decision?


Who knew there were so many different types of earbuds for my mp3 player?

I just wanted a pair that sounds good at a reasonable price. So I headed over to Amazon only to discover 400 pages of earbuds for sale!!!???

Holy crap!!! (I thought this was going to be an easy purchase, but now I don’t know which ones to buy)


Do I want sound dampening? (whatever that means?)

Noise reduction? (No, I want them to make noise. It’s kinda the whole purpose)

Wide ones or skinny ones? Rubber tips or plastic tips? Over the ear or not?

And what the hell are “Airpods”???


Now I’ve got a headache, when all I wanted to do was buy a pair of earbuds for my mp3 player.


Of course, that was Amazon where we expect to find a massive variety of choices for sale.

But there’s a valuable lesson here for all of us smaller marketers…


As marketers, it’s easy for us to assume that if we offer customers more choices they’ll be more likely to buy our products, because they’ll be more likely to find something that fits exactly what they’re looking for.

Unfortunately, the reality is often very different.


It’s one of those paradoxes of life. As consumers, we want the freedom to choose. But too many choices can leave us frozen with Analysis Paralysis.

What if we make the wrong choice? What are we giving up by not picking any of the other ones? When I came here I thought I knew what I wanted… now I’m not so sure?


A number of experiments have been conducted over the past few decades that show if a person is presented with too many choices, he or she is actually less likely to buy anything.

One of the more famous studies was back in the early 2000s… Psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper from Columbia and Stanford University published a study about consumers choice when it came to buying jams at a local food market.

Customers who came into the store were presented with a display table.

On one day the table had 24 different kinds of jams. Then, on another day at that same food market, people were given only 6 different types of jam to choose from.


The researchers found that while the table with 24 jams generated more interest at first, people were about ten times more likely to actually purchase a jar from the table with fewer choices.


Since that case study was published, there’s been a ton of research studies in other areas ranging from food, to cars, to clothing, and practically every consumer product imaginable.

And many of these studies have shown similar results.


I recently read a book titled – “The Paradox of Choice Why More is Less” by Barry Schwartz – that shows a number of clever examples you can look at. (if you haven’t read the book yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a little long winded in some parts, but overall it’s a fun book to absorb).


So the evidence is clear… More choice isn’t always better. And too many choices can kill your sales.

Now that begs the question…


How many choices is optimal to advance the sale?

I’ve seen a few studies conducted that have tried to answer this question, and the final conclusion so far is… It depends on what you’re selling and who (or whom) you’re selling to.

Some products or services are prime candidates for many choices, so consumers can find the one that works best for them and their particular needs (how many different styles of automobiles are there in this world?)

While some products or services do better with minimal choices (do you want the soup, or salad with your meal?)


Of course you’ll need to do your own testing with your own customers. But in my experience, when it comes to basic products and services, 3 has always been a magic number…

Good, Better, Best — Small, Medium, Large — Bronze, Silver, Gold.

This gives people the power to make their own choice, while still avoiding decision overload (and the dreaded analysis paralysis).


Let me wrap this post up with one final thought…

As a basic rule of thumb when deciding how many choices to give your customers, think about the nature of what you’re selling.

  • Is it something that lends itself to making a quick and easy choice?
  • Is it something that is overly complex or difficult to compare alternatives?
  • Is it something that consumers usually don’t have a clear preference for?


If it’s any of these things, consider minimizing the choices – so you can maximize your sales…


Posted in General Copywriting, Writing Mindset.

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