Background knowledge

Paradox of choice regarding product configurators

Maybe the term "Paradox of Choice" means something to you. In 2004, the American psychologist Barry Schwartz defined it for the first time in his book "The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less". In that book, he explains how our satisfaction depends on the success or failure of our goals. The concept behind it is partic-ularly interesting for configurator projects and mass customization

Paradox of choice regarding product configurators

In a nutshell, the argument can be summarized as follows: More choices or options make it more difficult for people to make a decision. This reduces their satisfaction. Although this theory has implications for many areas of our lives, it is particularly relevant in a business context. The greater the number of varia-tions and options of a product offered, the greater the risk for customers to reach a point where the decision seems too difficult for them. And to cope with this conflict, they make no decision at all. Which means, of course, that they don't make a purchase. 


What can we learn from jam?

One of the most important experiments on " Paradox of Choice" was conducted in a gourmet supermarket in California. The research group set up a sampling table with jam jars, one time with 6 different flavors and another time with 24 different flavors. Customers of the supermarket who had tasted samples were then given a voucher to buy jam at a lower price. On average, 2 flavors were tested in both scenarios.

Here comes the interesting part: 60% of the supermarket customers stopped in front of the large range, but only 40% wanted to try the smaller one. However, 30% of the testers of the small selection bought a jar of jam afterwards, while only 3% of the testers of the large selection decided to buy it.
 This result suggests that a balance must be found: Too many options and fewer potential customers decide to buy, too few options and there are fewer people who find the offer attractive enough and therefore do not even want to look at the range.

Paradox of choice regarding product configurators

So how much choice is enough?

Product configurators make it easier to decide how many variations offer the greatest optimization, if they are technically implemented in such a way that products can be changed flexibly. This is because they al-low marketers to run tests with different numbers of variations to see where the optimal balance can be found. Of course, this does not happen overnight, but through iterative development cycles.

Another advantage in this context is that the data and user metrics generated by the configurator can be used to optimize the standard range in such a way that customers can buy their perfect product already configured, which often takes away the "agony of choice". The prerequisite for this is the ability to collect and evaluate data on configurations and variations.


How can I minimize the risk?

Of course, you can also minimize the risk directly in the configurator, for example by integrating intelligent recommendation systems that guide customers through the configuration process and give them the feeling of being able to trust their decisions. After all, these decisions were not made completely on their own, but with the help of recommendations.
A mistake that is frequently encountered in configurator projects is: functionalities or features that are tech-nically feasible and complex, but have no concrete benefit from the user's point of view. Although no con-crete benefit for users is still better than the worst case: that this feature confuses customers and is there-fore perceived as a disadvantage.

 The solution to this is a user-centric view of the entire development process. Before implementing new features, one should always ask what benefits they will bring to users and validate their usefulness, ide-ally by testing them in an environment that is as close to reality as possible.

Paradox of choice regarding product configurators

The optimal balance between too many and too few options also depends on the product and the target group. Do your users want 25 shades of each color? Great, if the answer to the question is no and you can manage with less. If you still want to give your customers so many options, they can use guiding techniques and the recommendation systems (recommendation engines) mentioned above. For example, you can high-light the 5 most popular colors, or suggest options that go well with the configuration. This way, your cus-tomers can still choose from a wide range of options, but will be "guided" out of uncertainty with curated preselections. But this rule applies in general: always think about how the configurator can support users in their decision making progress.

"Paradox of choice" summarized

  • potential customers appreciate a large range of products and a lot of choice
  • too much choice and options can be confusing and paralyzing
  • reduce the risks that prevent customers from making decisions
  • help your customers find their perfect configuration
  • evaluate the usefulness of features from the user's point of view
  • compare performance with different numbers of variations


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