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When we think about shopping we generally think that the more options we have, the better the shopping experience. It empowers the shopper to be able to select the product that exactly matches their particular preferences whether it be size, shape, price, taste, color, material, etc…. Several major ecommerce retailers make a lot of money with this concept by providing huge selections. Amazon, for example is the king in this category. When I search for “watches” for example, there are over 790,000 various matches to my search.
This is a bit overwhelming. Where do I even start to narrow down my search results? Fortunately Amazon makes it easy with faceted categorization of search results. Instead of 790,000 options, I can easily make 5 decisions in which I select Mens’s watches, from $50-$100, sport categorization, specifically for cycling, and I only want to see watches with a rating higher than 4. This narrows my selection down to just 51 watches.
Why is this important you ask? A study by Sheena Iyengar, who makes a living studying how people choose, shows that an overabundance of choice can actually be demotivating.
“Is the initial attractiveness of extensive choice also reflected in subsequent purchasing behavior? Our findings suggest not: Nearly 30% (31) of the consumers in the limited-choice condition subsequently purchased ajar of Wilkin & Sons jam; in contrast, only 3% (4) of the consumers in the extensive-choice condition did so, ^(1 , N = 249) = 32.34, p < .0001. Thus, consumers initially exposed to limited choices proved considerably more likely to purchase the product than consumers who had initially encountered a much larger set of options.” Link to PDF Study at http://www.columbia.edu/~ss957/articles/Choice_is_Demotivating.pdf
So while we all want to provide the exact product your shopper is looking for, you have to be very careful to not provide too many choices without having a highly effective, simple, and intuitive method for your shoppers to decrease the perception of choices they have. Otherwise the overabundance of choice can actually have a negative impact on your shopping experience, reduce conversion rates, and create shopper fatigue. Faceted categorization in a site search such as what Nextopia Site Search provides is a great method to accomplish this.
Another interesting method to test is to take some of the choice out of the equation for the shopper. Try offering featured items that at the top of your categories where there are high volumes of selections. Take some of the choice out of the equation by telling the customer this is the product you want. Another method would be to place your top row of products as being the highest rated or most bought items and segment that top row of products differently so they stand out. Provide the full selection but push them to choose between a much more limited sub-set of items. Push the buyer in a certain direction and limit their choice and you will likely see better results than having the shopper have to make the selection by themselves. The study referenced above stepped through multiple iterations of this behavior all which had the similar outcome. Less choices creates more confidence, less stress, and higher satisfaction with the purchase. When it comes to choices, less can actually be more.
If anyone would like to watch one of Sheena Iyengar inspiring TED Talks, here is a good one to start with… The Art of Choosing.