The Paradox of Choice: Neither Too Much Nor Too Little
You might have heard the term ‘Paradox of Choice’: It was coined by American psychologist Barry Schwartz who back in 2004 published a book called ‘The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less’. In it, he assembles his argument from a variety of fields of modern psychology that research how happiness is affected by the success or failure of goal achievements. The concept is especially interesting for mass customization and product configurators. Here’s why.
In a nutshell, the argument carrying the paradox goes like this: Having more options or choices makes it harder for people to decide, potentially hurting their happiness in the process. Although this theory has implications for several areas in our lives, applied to a business context it means that the more variants of the product you offer, the more you risk coming near a point at which customers perceive a decision as too difficult to make. So, as a way of coping, they won’t decide at all.
In business, the most popular experiment testing this theory involves samples of jam at a California gourmet market. Researchers arranged free samples of jam, in one scenario 6 different flavors, in the other one 24 options to choose from. Participants were then given a coupon with which they could purchase the jams at a discount. On average, customers tasted two jams, regardless of the size of the assortment.
Here comes the interesting part. 60% of all customers stopped by the large assortment, only 40% were drawn to the small one. But of those who had samples from the small assortment, only 30% decided to buy jam, while only 3% of those who had 24 different flavors to choose from purchased a jar.¹
Those results suggest that one has to find a balance in how many variants are offered. Too many and fewer people will buy after seeing your offering, too few variants, and fewer people will be willing to get to know your product range and offerings altogether.
How Many Variants Are Enough?
The great advantage of product configurators in the context of getting around the paradox of choice is that - provided the technical implementation allows for flexible changes - marketers can test different amounts of options against the return they generate. That’s how they can iteratively narrow down the perfect balance between too many and too few variants.
Another great advantage is that if the configurator gathers user data, one can adapt and optimize the assortment of standard products, providing customers with already-configured products that will fit their needs more likely.
Minimizing The Risks
Of course, there are also ways to minimize the risk of information overload. Intelligent recommendation engines can guide your customers through the configuration experience, making customers trust their choices more - since the recommended options are already provided.
One mistake that seems common in configuration projects is that configurators have functionalities that are technically realizable and complex but do not offer any real advantage to the user. The solution here is to think user-centric and always question whether a feature improves the experience or not and to validate its usefulness by testing it in a live environment.
Testing and evaluating how many options for a specific choice should be given can also improve the configurator performance: Would users appreciate 25 different shades of one color? If you can go with less, great. If you feel like your customers want that many options, try to think about how the configurator can support them in their decision making, for example by providing the top 5 colors or ones that match previous color selections. That way, you give your customers a guiding and take away uncertainty by curating the best options.
- Customers like to have a lot of options to choose from
- Too many options and customers can’t decide which ones are the best
- Reduce the risk of choice overload
- Help your customers by providing recommendations
- Evaluate features and options from a users perspective
- Test and compare different options and features