Defeating Choice Paralysis in E-commerce

ChoicesEarlier today I’ve read on the blog of Guide Jansen about a lot of psychological phenonema influencing people on the web. Being a psychologist myself, I became enthousiasted by this and decided to expand the information on one of the topics Guido has covered: Choice Paralysis.

Abundance of Choice

Choice paralysis can be defined as “a paralyzing effect caused by the abudance of choice“. The problem seems widespread in both the brick-and-mortar world and on the internet. Just think about the last time you had to get a tube of toothpaste or a template for Joomla. How does one ever manage to differentiate between all those very similar but yet different options?

Solutions for E-commerce Websites

Several methods have already been presented by other authors, so rather than repeating them I will list them so you can read more on the topics on the websites I’ve found them:

Guido Jansen – Limit choices

  • Split products into ‘Search only’ and ‘Catalog and Search’
  • Use customer segmentation to only show relevant products

Paul Boag – How to stop choice paralysis damaging your sales

  • Limit the users choice
  • Clearly differentiate between choices
  • Hide less popular choices
  • Make suggestions
  • Set Good Defaults

Product Ratings and Reviews

When presented with a lot of options, wouldn’t it be great to see how others (similar to you) have experienced that product? Just head over to the Joomla Extensions Directory and imagine you’re trying to select the best image slideshow for your new Joomla website. The JED lists over 110 different image slideshows. Finding the absolute rational winner by comparing features, costs, drawbacks, user experience etc. would take days. But looks, they have those shiny yellow starred ratings! These star ratings, combined with (more indepth) reviews quickly eliminate most of the options. They tell me I probably won’t have to look past the 2nd page as ratings drop fast beyond that page. But what if we could integrate the requirements a visitors has in this process?

The Selection Wizard

Enter the selection wizard. With these handy wizards, you can enter your personal requirements, and get the best possible suggestion at the end of the wizard. Just take a look at the SSL product selection wizard of our SSL certificate provider VeriSign has on their website. By phrasing the questions in a particular way, they are actually trying to make us buy their premium certificates without most visitors consciously noticing this! I mean, how could anyone answer the next question with a ‘no’: “Do you want to offer the strongest encryption available to every site visitor?“. Had they phrased it with the following question (that has the same net effect) “Are you willing to pay almost $600 more per year for added security on your website?“, I bet not as many visitors would purchase the more expansive certificate.

Sort the Options

Less intrusive than the selection wizard is simply sorting the options. By letting your users choose on what aspect they want to sort your products (for example price, relevance, rating, novelty, size, proximity etc.) you’ll make it easier for them to choose the ‘right’ option. By making sure you allow your visitors to sort their results in both ascending and descending order, you can be sure they will find their way through your products, no matter what their (odd) requirements might be. Even better would be to allow them to dynamically combine multiple aspects in one query, such as ‘the best combination of proximity and rating‘ for a restaurant or ‘the best combination of price and size‘ for a bouquet.

While limiting the number of options for your visitors will in many cases still be the best way to reduce choice paralysis, try using some of the techniques described above to simplify the user’s choice for the best product even further and increase your sales in the process!

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