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Choice Kills Conversion

Too often websites, landing pages and even ads decrease the odds of conversion by presenting considerations to users when they are already past the consideration stage and ready to buy.
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When confronted with choice user response will slow, users become unsure of themselves and many times they will fall off their task. As soon as you present choices you introduce consideration. As soon as you introduce consideration you force analysis. Forcing analysis drives the user further away from their goal. If they are ready to buy why would you message anything that could send them back to that consideration netherworld of searching, researching and comparison?

Sand_focusUsers are coming to your site or landing page with a goal in mind. Optimization is the work of anticipating that goal and finding the right messaging so the user knows this is the place to fulfill it. Optimization is not about asking questions or presenting choices. Nor is it, in my opinion, about trying to persuade users to behave in a certain manner. You should have done that work BEFORE the user got to your page. In “buy” mode they are trying to find what they have already decided they want (the key words being “find” and “decided”). They are now navigating the murky waters product searches and comparative engines. Your work is reeling them into an experience that is relevant to their goal.

These are concepts I’ve been aware of since I was working at Creative Good. When you actually watch and observe user behavior as I did for a couple of years, you are privy to understanding the latent needs of users. Many times those unmet needs consist of a desire for the simplicity and clarity that comes with the reduction of content and choice. So it was with great pleasure that I watched my friend and Creative Good CEO Phil Terry share last week’s Shop.org’s keynote presentation with Barry Schwartz, professor and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.

Barry presents great proof of concept in his book and shared some examples.

- College students were given a choice of a free pen ($2.50 value) or $2.00 cash.

75% chose the pen.

- College students were given a choice of a free pen ($2.50 value), two pens ($1.25 value each) or $2.00 cash.

40% chose either of the two pen options.

As soon as there was a choice of pens, the pens became less appealing.

Here’s another one:

A U.K. jam maker did a supermarket tasting. The first day they had 23 different flavors of jams available for tasting and purchase at their table.

The second day they had they exact same display and amount of bottles on the table but with only six flavors.

Result? Sales day one were 1/10th of day two.

Here are Schwartz’s three reasons why choice makes people miserable:

1. Regret and anticipated regret. If there’s a choice many times you wonder if you made the right one…even if you are happy with the choice you made. Consider the implications on customer retention.

2. Opportunity Costs. The example above of the pen giveaway.

3. Escalation of expectations. Everything suffers from comparison. The more choices you leave behind the higher expectations you have for what you picked.

One of the most interesting parts of the keynote and another part that I am familiar with from my optimization experience is the point of diminishing returns. It’s not that no choices are always the best. Think about a category page. If you only had one item it doesn’t seem likely that would increase conversion. There is however always a tipping point where having more choices does harm. Schwartz called this “finding the sweet spot” and it is something that I work with clients on all the time. This is because the only way to find the sweet spot is to test.

Shop.org was a great show. My participation was moderating a roundtable discussion with So Young Park of Musician’s Friend on the how, where and why online retailers should test free shipping promotions. The “why” of course is that there isn’t an easier promotion for users to “get” than free shipping. The “how” and “where?” Well that’s all about finding the sweet spot.

What choices are you giving your audience? What are your sweet spots and how are you determining them?

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