Are Your Customers Spoilt for Choice?

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Mandy Wilson

Mandy is a Director and Content Manager at Cree Digital

too much choice
Table of Contents

Are you giving your customers too much to choose from? You might assume that the greater the choice, the happier they will be. A no-brainer, surely? Well, not always.

A  fascinating study, since known as ‘The Jam Study‘,  by psychologists Sheena Lyengar and Mark Lepper, published in 2000, (yes, some time ago but even more relevant for today’s online shopping explosion) proved that when overwhelmed by too much choice, consumers were far more likely to walk away and ‘think about it’  than to make a purchase. 

Consider the last time you went to buy something from Amazon. Maybe you were looking for some new ear-pods for your iPhone. How many came up in the search? You will almost certainly have been presented with a list as long as your arm. Chances are, you went for the ones near the top of the list. So far so good for Amazon, and great for the business who paid to promote their product to the top of the list. But will this translate well with your ecommerce business?

What was ‘The Jam Study’?

On a regular day, in an ordinary supermarket, somewhere in the USA, a jam tasting display was set up. A delicious array of 24 jams were available for consumers to test and hopefully go on to pick their favourite and make the purchase.

On a different day, another jam tasting display was set up with just 6 different delicious jams. Amazingly, the study concluded that although the table with 24 jams generated plenty of interest, the people who had tasted jams from the smaller range were 10 times more likely to go on to purchase jam, proving that ‘choice overload’ doesn’t always achieve the desired result for the seller. 

‘The Jam Study’ has prompted hundreds of retailers and restaurants to carry out their own studies   in relation to their business and found ‘The Paradox of Choice’ to be true. 

These studies have really challenged the way we think about human nature and we should always be ready to be surprised and use the findings to our advantage.

Future Planning and Business Strategy

You may reasonably have assumed that your ecommerce business will be successful if your products are great, your P&P is fairly priced and you have a wide selection of merchandise on your website. But take a moment to step into your customer’s shoes… might they be finding themselves inundated by too many solutions to one problem? With too much to choose from, they have to spend time and effort processing information and are at risk of developing a fear of making the wrong choice and ultimately, ‘choice paralysis’  ie no choice at all!

Start with a Product Analysis

Ask yourself some questions to determine whether the Paradox of Choice is indeed affecting your sales:

  • What are my customers’ needs?
  • What is the minimum number of products I need to list to meet these needs?
  • Are any of these products so similar that they will be over-compared by my customers?
  • Should I consider removing a product to test whether they warrant being listed? 
  • Rather than list huge selections of products, would a filtering option tidy things up?

Remember to go back and check your analytics. Did ‘losing’ a few products improve your sales? If not, put them back. Test and test again until you reach the optimum solution.


In life generally, choice is good for us. Business is a different beast. The more choice is offered, the more the benefits level off and too much choice can throw a few spanners into the works. The extra time and effort required by your customers to make a choice can lead to self-doubt. Then, worrying about making the wrong choice leads to self-blame and occasionally,  ‘buyers’ remorse‘.

Invest time to get the balance of customer options right for your business . A carefully considered strategy will enable you to reap the rewards of  a solid base of satisfied customers.

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