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The Psychology of Choice: How to leverage customer buying decisions

The Psychology of Choice: How to leverage customer buying decisions

Imagine you visit two different websites for companies in the same industry. One offers you three choices, while the other presents 15 varied options. Which website do you think will perform the best? Though it seems counterintuitive, the website offering fewer options will likely perform better and successfully convert more visitors into customers.

We may think we must provide many options to ensure an optimal customer experience, but too many choices can lead to overwhelm and analysis paralysis. According to the psychology of choice, the more options we have, the less likely we are to make any decision at all. As a business owner, you can learn to use the psychology of choice to your advantage. We’ll explain how to leverage the psychology of choice so consumers are comfortable taking action.

What is the psychology of choice?

The psychology of choice is the concept that the more options we have, the less likely we are to make a decision. This term was coined in 2000 by psychologists Sheena Lyengar and Mark Lepper and was made famous by a study evaluating consumer choices.

In their experiment, Lyengar and Lepper presented shoppers with 24 jam varieties, giving them a taste test and a $1 coupon off any jar. In a separate test, they gave shoppers six varieties of jam, offering taste tests but no coupons.

Surprisingly, shoppers visiting the larger display were one-tenth as likely to make a purchase.

Since Lyengar and Lepper’s landmark study, ample research has shown that when it comes to consumer choice, fewer options are actually better.

Here’s what can happen if there are too many options:

  • Customers fear making the wrong choice.
  • The decision becomes more complicated.
  • The plentiful options trigger the urge to find additional options.

Though it may sound counterintuitive, consumers faced with too many choices are more likely to walk away than select an option.

How does customer decision-making affect your business?

It’s in your company’s best interest to simplify your customers’ decision-making process. Your customers want options, but if you give them too many, they may be unable to make a decision.

The decisions your customers make will significantly impact your company’s profits. If you offer too many products or services, your customers may have difficulty understanding which one is best. If they can’t choose, they may turn to one of your competitors with fewer options. 

Here’s another example: Let’s say you give your customers too many options for contacting you. If you give them 10 different ways to reach you, they’re likely to avoid reaching out at all. This can hurt your credibility and company reputation.

8 ways your business can leverage the psychology of choice

It’s crucial to offer your customers the choices they’ll best respond to, but you may be concerned about overwhelming them. Fortunately, there are ways to leverage the psychology of choice to your business’s — and customers’ — advantage.

1. Use an AI hyper-personalisation SaaS for product selection of email content.

AI hyper-personalisation solutions now exist that use advanced algorithms on the data captured from your website that identifies exactly the particular preferences of each consumer, at a precise moment. these solutions exist for website landing pages, but by far the greatest ROI come from solutions that take the idea selection to the consumer via email at exactly the perfect calculated time for that person.

This is identifying preferences be they subtle and nuanced, or flagrant on obvious. Either way the maximum return is secured and perpetually nurtured from your customer, who can’t help but identify with your brand, if you only ever show they what the want, need, like or aspire to possess. You need to know the hyper-personalisation strategies to drive ecommerce KPIs.

2. Eliminate unnecessary choices for your customers.

Evaluate your product and service offerings, and ask yourself what you can afford to eliminate. How can you streamline your current options to make the user experience more laser-focused and increase sales?

For example, an Italian recipe blog reduced its myriad options on two different pages. This small change increased the blog’s click-through rate (CTR) from 2.7 to 12.3 percent on one page and 3.6 to 11.5 percent on another.

2. Create clear categories for your offerings.

If you have an online store or many products and services and can’t eliminate choices, try creating clearer categories. Consumers are more likely to understand multiple categories than many individual choices because categories help them narrow their options. It is essential to fully understand the importance of understanding click-depth.

3. Don’t present more than five options at a time.

Studies are somewhat mixed on how many product choices to offer at once. Some say no more than two or three, while others say the sweet spot lies between eight and 15. This variation is likely because the ideal number will depend on your specific products and target audience. As a result, we suggest narrowing your customers’ available choices to five at a time. Any more than that, and you risk overwhelming them with options. 

4. Provide a default or suggested option.

It’s your job to help customers focus and make the best purchase decision. However, being pushy doesn’t work. Instead, offer suggestions when presenting options. Provide default or suggested options that make sense for most users, so customers feel comfortable that their choice is standard and optimal.

Even better, add an element of personalization to your customers’ options; they’ll feel seen and know that you understand their needs. A PwC survey found that four out of five consumers are willing to share personal data (e.g., email address, birthday and age, and sex/gender identity) for a better purchasing experience. But this pales into insignificance compared to 1st party data captured directly from your site and the preferences of each client is measured directly instead of by what they might tell you.

5. Understand cognitive dissonance to support customer choices.

Cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger 1957) states that people experience a mental discomfort when they hold contradictory beliefs, attitudes, or values, or when they act in ways that are inconsistent with their self-image. To reduce this discomfort, people try to rationalise, justify, or change their beliefs, attitudes, values, or behaviours. This is important when using data from previous purchase habits, and navigational or click-though patterns to perpetuate and predict future purchases.

Cognitive dissonance can affect consumer behaviour in various ways. For example, after making a purchase, consumers may experience post-purchase dissonance, or buyer’s remorse, if they doubt their decision or encounter negative information about the product or service. To cope with this, they may seek confirmation from others, ignore or avoid conflicting information, or return or exchange the product or service.

Marketers can use cognitive dissonance theory to influence consumer behaviour in different ways. For instance, they can create or amplify cognitive dissonance in consumers who have not yet made a purchase, by highlighting the benefits of their offer and the drawbacks of their competitors’. This can motivate consumers to switch their preferences or take action.

6. Simplify your website to streamline the customer experience.

When evaluating your website design, only include essential content on your pages. Don’t offer all your options and information on one page. Consider one or two goals you want to achieve from each page and focus on achieving those goals. Many examples exist of excellent CRO services providing preselected product landing pages for individual consumers. It’s only caveat is having to wait for each visitor to land, compared to sending emails which reach out to consumers to draw them in.

7. Present one offer in emails.

Time and time again, expert marketers have emphasised the importance of making just one offer when sending out email marketing campaigns.

When you think about the psychology of choice, it’s easy to understand why a single offer is more powerful than multiple confusing options. Emphasising one product, service or offer helps the buyer decide without getting caught up in too many choices.

8. Understand that less is more.

Want a quick way to increase your conversion rates? Make the choices easier for your customers. Keep things simple. Less is more.

Focus on how you can reach more of the same customer type. Determine how you can better cater to your target audience and increase the authority and perceived value of your products or services.

Don’t expect customers to do the work. Instead, use these tips to help customers overcome their fears and leverage the psychology of choice to encourage them to make firm buying decisions.

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