Battling Choice Overload for a Better Shopping Experience

I’m one of those people who tend to disassociate in the face of abundance. If I was a superhero, “too many choices” might be my kryptonite. Turns out I’m not alone.

In a TED video about the art of choosing, psycho-economist Sheena Iyengar describes my deer-in-headlights paralysis as “choice overload.” According to Iyengar’s research, Americans make an average of 70 choices a day.
We’re often overwhelmed with the task of comparing and contrasting prospective choices. The more we have to weigh, the harder we have to lift. And if the choices aren’t presented to encourage smoother decision making, choosing is all the harder. Under these circumstances you can end up making an unsatisfying decision. Or no decision at all.

Iyengar had me thinking of the ways choice overload relates to content development and merchandising.

The connection is pretty clear: to go shopping is to make a series of choices, and those choices are influenced by how product content is (or isn’t) presented.

[Tweet “To go shopping is to make a series of choices.”]

4 Techniques for Improving the “Choosing Experience”

Though we can’t always control the frequency of making choices, we can make the process easier.

Iyengar offers some useful points in her TED talk, which I suspect she also presents beautifully in her book, The Art of Choosing. I’d like to spotlight her 4 techniques for helping manage choices and how they might translate to smoother experiences and decision making for online shoppers.

CUT: Get rid of redundant options like too many similar products. And limit repetitious information, which can lead to cluttered product pages and overwhelmed shoppers. From an SEO angle, cutting or reworking redundant content can improve your search result rankings.

CONCRETIZE: A challenge of online shopping is that you can’t hold the product in your hand. Compensate for this by presenting your product three-dimensionally. Explain features and benefits clearly so shoppers see how your doodad stands out from the others. And use images and other media so shoppers have an accurate, concrete view of the product.

CATEGORIZE: Iyengar says people can “handle more categories than they can choices.” When you have multiple variations on an item, help shoppers discern the differences by creating categories and filters. This provides a way for shoppers to narrow the pool of possible purchases and reduces choice overload.

[Tweet “We need to be primed for complex decisions.”]

CONDITION: Using the example of an automaker selling customized cars, Iyengar describes how a selection process beginning with the fewest choices (4 gear shifts) yielded better shopper engagement and lower fatigue rates than the process starting with many choices (56 color options). The point? We can handle complex decisions, but we need to be primed for them. When dealing with complex or custom products, start small to give shoppers time to digest their choices.

Help Customers Help Themselves

Levi’s Curve ID “Fit Finder,” an online questionnaire that helps you find flattering jeans to fit your body type, illustrates the four above techniques. The graphics, pithy descriptions, and user-friendly interface create a relatively smooth choosing experience.

If you’ve ever found yourself standing in front of a massive wall of impeccably folded jeans in cubby holes wondering where to start, you’ll probably appreciate this guide. Try it out for yourself.

Levi's curve ID ad includes three women with legs visible and a button that says "find your curve."

Levi’s Curve ID simplifies the choosing experience by grouping jeans into four categories based on body shape. An intro explains the Curve ID concept clearly and compellingly.

The Curve ID Fit finder groups jeans by body shape and common fit issues. It’s a different, and possibly more accurate, way of shopping for new jeans. This branded content categorizes Levi’s products and starts conditioning shoppers to ultimately make a purchase decision with confidence.

Step 1 in Levis Curve ID fit finder gives shoppers 4 options for waits shape--straight, some curve, curvy, or very curvy.

The Takeaway

Cut, concretize, categorize, and condition to improve customers’ choosing experiences. You’ll allay choice overload and increase customer satisfaction and sales.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on 6/6/2012 at content26’s old blog, For this update we made minor edits and added a link or two, but we didn’t take anything away.

Learn more about how your product-page content affects your shoppers in our article Eyes Wide Open by Noreena Hertz.

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