Need help with marketing? Join my Marketing Club

Drowning in Choice

Christmas is upon you and that means hundreds of choices staring you in the face – what gifts to buy for whom, venues for the Christmas do, what to eat at the Christmas do, what to wear to the Christmas do, blah de blah. It’s enough to give you indigestion before you’ve even taken a sniff of turkey.

Christmas is just the tip of the choice iceberg, every aspect of your life; what you buy, how you work, how you eat, how you run our business is all encumbered by choice. If you don’t take control you can drown in it, and so can your customers.

Our society is built on the idea that choice is a good thing and to some extent I would agree, after all who wants to be limited to one TV channel, but we’ve taken this idea to extremes when the average supermarket now sells hundreds of different types of cheese.

Every day your customers are served by millions of people who work to make billions of products just to offer choice – everything can be personalised to our individual tastes. Decaf soya cappuccino? Double expresso light or a machiatto? Don’t want either? Well then how about a short, tall, skinny, decaf or iced Latte instead? You can have whatever you want, when you want it. The problem is that the decision becomes more difficult the more choice you have.

Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice, says that at the point where the effort to make an informed decision overtakes the benefit of having a choice, then “choice no longer liberates but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannise.”

So, are you drowning your customers in choice? Columbia Business School Professor Sheena Iyengar, a psycho economist gave a TED talk about how businesses can improve the experience of choosing. She says that because our brains simply can’t categorize and choose as well with so many options in front of us… “We choose not to choose even when it goes against our best self interests”.

When already faced by a barrage of choice at Christmas you might just be tipping your customers over the edge by adding more to their proverbial table, resulting in their disengagement and dissatisfaction. So, imagine your company makes choosing a product or service a much simpler process. Where there is no need for endless comparing and contrasting. Your customers will walk away having made a decision they’re happy with, rather than feeling overloaded, and you’ll feel that tinge of satisfaction when a happy customer sings your praises on social media.

Here are a few tips that Professor Iyengar recommends for keeping your customers from feeling overwhelmed;

Eliminate choices to make decision-making easier in your business.

Cut down the number of products and options your company offers. Keep the best sellers but cull the lowest-sellers. “When Procter and Gamble went from 20 different kinds of Head and Shoulders to 15, they saw an increase in sales by 10 percent,” Iyengar says. Less is more. If you are willing to slim down on products, sales increase and costs go down. It’s a win/win.

Help customers focus on a specific, positive outcome

Linking your customer’s choice with a concrete aspect of their life and how it may be affected will help them choose better. For example, ‘These wall tiles will help you achieve a sophisticated and serene bathroom, helping you to bathe in style’ will plant the image in their heads of your wall tiles on their walls. Customers need to see how your service will improve their lives without too much mental effort.


If you must have hundreds of products and services, then categorise them into easy-to-follow classifications on your website to help your customers navigate their way around. Ease them in first. For example, offer one or two categories each with choices within. Make it a simple-to-navigate website. Limit the jargon and blocks of texts if possible too.

Help customers by ‘conditioning for complexity.’

Yours may be a company whose very nature is to offer a thousand choices, perhaps you sell ceramic wall and floor tiles for instance. If the first decision your customer has to make has fewer categories and options than the following ones, they will be more likely to participate in ongoing decisions rather than disengage. This is called ‘conditioning for complexity’.

In order that you don’t overwhelm your customers with choice you need to be selective in what products you offer. Avoid being that restaurant that offers too much choice. Not only because it means that by doing too much you will not do anything particularly well, but also because too much choice, at the very least, will leave customers not wholly satisfied with their decision. It may, at worst, have them running in the opposite direction.

Photo Credit: Menu Board – Yugamama