Questioning ChoicesAre too many choices making eCommerce difficult for consumers? Recently I listened to a TED Talk by Dr. Sheena Iyengar, Professor at Columbia University and author of “The Art of Choosing.”  In her TED Talk, Dr. Iyengar postulated that we are often overwhelmed by too many options in our lives which can lead to decision fatigue. Decision fatigue can result not only in careless decisions but even in decision paralysis, where no decision is made at all. While we relish in having our say, paradoxically, it can be that the more options we have to choose from, the more likely we are to simply walk away, abandoning our task without making a decision.

eCommerce managers—who often pride themselves in how much content they provide to their customers—should take this observation into consideration. Dr. Iyengar’s research has shown that customers must be led through a system of simple steps in order to make complex decisions. She has developed a system of presenting information to customers in order to prevent choice overload. She outlines the following four steps:

  1. Cut. Reduce the number of options to a reasonable number. Does anyone really need to have 250 options when it comes to jam? Fifty or even 25 kinds of jam may still offer enough variety.
  2. Concretize. Give the consumer enough information about each item to really know what they are getting. Each item should have a full, detailed description and an image.
  3. Categorize. Group like items to play to the strengths of the human mind. Our minds are much better at interpreting differences between products if the items are categorized. Comparing 60 computer monitors becomes a more manageable task when our options are grouped into ten subcategories.
  4. Condition for Complexity. Break down the decision process into steps for products that require configuration. This allows you to walk the customer though the decision-making process. Start with broader options and work your way down to the specifications with more options.  In configuring a computer, for example, start with memory which may have four or five options, move through the configuration questions and end with case color which may have 20 options. This trains the customer to move easily though the decision-making process.

While these principles are relevant to numerous types of decision-making scenarios, they are particularly applicable in the world of eCommerce. Customers often complain that eCommerce sites are just not user friendly. When pressed for details, however, customers fall short and are unable to explain exactly why or how this is. Comments like this may be an indication that customers are overwhelmed by the site; that they are experiencing choice overload. By considering these simple principles and adjusting your site accordingly, even sites that support thousands of products can be simplified and made more user friendly for their customers.