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Less is More: Why Providing Your Customers with Fewer Options Will Increase Your eCommerce Sales

11 Min Read

You know the drill: You arrive home after a long workday, curl up onto your couch, and turn on Netflix to find a movie or show to lose yourself in. You end up spending what feels like hours browsing and reading various synopses, but still can’t decide what to watch. By now, it’s late, so you give up and decide to just go to bed instead. 

Sound familiar? 

If so, then you’re not alone. In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz claims that the abundance of options that we’re confronted with on a daily basis paralyze us and cause us to put off making a decision. 

On top of that, having more options causes us to be less satisfied with the decision that we end up making because we keep thinking about everything that we missed out on (the opportunity cost a.k.a. buyer’s remorse). 

The famous Jam Experiment proved this. Here’s what happened: Psychologists, Iyengar, Jiang and Huberman, went to a grocery store and offered one group of customers 24 different types of jam. To another group of customers, they only offered six different types of jam. 

In the end, the study with 24 jams attracted more people but resulted in far fewer purchases[1]. To be exact, 30% of people bought jam when there were only six to choose from, and just 3% of people bought jam when there were 24 on display. 

But it doesn’t stop there: Having fewer options has also been proven to boost happiness, decrease buyer remorse, and increase the probability of repurchase[2]

One study by Shah and Wolford found that providing more choices helps to boost sales…up to a certain point. After a certain number of options, you’ll reach a point of diminishing returns. Here’s a graph from the study that demonstrates that:

graph from the study by Shah & Wolford depict more number of options boost sales

So how many options is too many? That answer will depend on your business and audience. The only way to find out is to test. 

Reduce Decision Fatigue to Increase Conversions 

Research has found that “decision simplicity,” which is “the ease with which consumers can gather trustworthy information[3] about a product and confidently and efficiently weigh their purchase options,” is key to driving conversions and increasing customer retention

One obvious way to increase decision simplicity is to offer your customers fewer options and reduce the number of products in your eCommerce store. But decision simplicity goes far beyond that. 

Read on to find out a few other ways that you can reduce your customers’ cognitive load, boost decision simplicity…and increase eCommerce sales.

1. Have Just One CTA

You’ve probably heard this one before, but your emails and landing pages should have just one main call-to-action. 

Not convinced? 

NameOn, a Scandinavian e-tailer, noticed that they were losing a third of their customers just before checkout. They reviewed their checkout process and found that they had nine calls-to-action on the cart page. So they created another variation with just one CTA on the page, which directed shoppers to checkout. In the end, the page with just one CTA performed 11.40% better, leading to $100,000 more in yearly sales.  

Here’s yet another example: Whirlpool created an email campaign that had one primary CTA directing their customers to their rebate page, along with three other secondary “Learn More” CTAs. 

email marketing campaign from Whirlpool.com with one primary CTA & secondary CTAs
Image Source[1]

But Whirlpool wanted to find out if the secondary CTAs were distracting the recipients from the primary CTA. So they created another variation with just one primary CTA and no secondary CTAs.

email marketing campaign from Whirlpool.com with just one primary CTA
Image Source[1]

Can you guess which email performed better? That’s right: The email with only one CTA had a 42% higher click-through rate[4]

That’s because, with several calls-to-action on the page, it’s easy for people to get distracted and confused—even if your main call-to-action is the one that stands out. 

So consider eliminating secondary CTAs or anything that distracts from your main call-to-action-whether it is your checkout pages on your eCommerce website or your email marketing campaigns. Think of one specific action that you want your email recipient or website visitor to take, and make that crystal clear. The more that you have segmented your audience, the more personal you can get and the easier this will be. 

2. Bundle Your Products

Product bundling is when you sell several complementary products together, generally at a cheaper price than it costs to buy each product individually. 

It tends to work because not only do your customers feel like they are snagging a good deal, but it also reduces their cognitive load. Instead of having to browse through your entire store and choose each product individually, the products are already selected for them. 

Dollar Shave Club is one example of an eCommerce brand that does this well:

bundled product options available on Dollar Shave Club

3. Provide Social Proof 

Have you ever seen a line outside a restaurant and subsequently felt an urge to eat there? If so, then you know the importance of social proof. 

As you may already know, social proof is the psychological phenomenon whereby one’s decision is influenced by other peoples’ opinions or behavior. 

To add social proof to your store, you’ll need product reviews. You could also add “Best-seller” tags to your top-selling items. Or you could show user-generated content (photos taken by your happy customers), like the mattress brand, Casper, does on their homepage.

social proof on the homepage of Casper.com

Knowing that other people have purchased and been happy with your product will encourage your shoppers to make a purchase as well and feel more confident in their decision.

4. Provide Personalized Choices

Rather than presenting your customers with a bunch of random options and asking them what they want to buy, instead try presenting them with just a few handpicked or personalized options. 

In a post-purchase email campaign, the online retailer, Indochino, picked out three different shirts that matched the suits customers had just bought and then promoted them as a bundle.

post-purchase email sent from Indochino.com

Each email increased the brand’s revenue by 540% compared to their normal promotions[5]. It worked because it presented each customer with just one highly personalized and simple offer. It didn’t make them have to think. 

If you don’t have that data to go off of, you could have your website visitors take a quiz to find out more about what they’re interested in. For example, the glasses and prescription eyeglasses company, Warby Parker, encourages their website visitors to take an eight-question quiz to find out what type of glasses are best for them. 

online quiz for buying eyeglasses on Warbyparker.com

Once the quiz is complete, they then provide them with a curated selection of glasses based on their answers.  

a curated selection of products on warbyparker.com

5. Simplify Your Website

It’s not only about how many options you provide your customers; it’s also about how you present them. 

Take a look at Bellroy’s homepage, for example.

homepage for bellroy.com
example of product layout on Bellroy.com

Notice how they don’t overload their website visitors with information and products right off the bat. Rather, just below the fold, they display their best-selling items, and below that, they show the different product categories, making it easy for their shoppers to find what they need. They still offer a variety of choices, but they present their products in a way that makes the shopping experience enjoyable and effortless. 

In addition to a beautiful, whitespace-friendly design, you should also make sure that your website is easy to navigate and use. As Bellroy does, categorize your products in a way that makes it easy for your shoppers to find what they’re looking for. 

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes; you could also think of your products that complement each other and categorize them together. 

6. Compare Your Products 

Don’t you hate it when you’re browsing a website and can’t figure out what you want to buy because you don’t know the difference between the products? For example, take a look at this Bose product page for headphones:

feature & detail comparison on product page of bose.com

A little confusing, don’t you think? It would be much clearer if they had a comparison chart showing the difference between the headphones. 

See how Apple does it, for instance:

product comparison of Apple mac models

Shoppers can pick the products that they want to compare and then compare them, feature by feature.

Bottom line? Make it very clear what your product features and benefits are. If you have products that are similar to one another, then create comparison charts, like Apple does, that clearly define the differences between them.

7. Offer a Killer Guarantee 

One of the problems with shopping online is that you can’t touch or try out the product. There’s more pressure on the decision-making process since you often don’t really know what you’re going to get, especially if it’s a first-time purchase. To reduce the pressure your shoppers are feeling, try offering them a return policy and guarantee that’s hard to refuse. For example, you could offer free shipping on returns and a lifetime guarantee. Or, as Warby Parker does, you could allow your customers to try out your products before committing to a purchase.

offer banner for products on warbyparker.com

But all of that aside, it’s also a hassle to return products. One survey found that 27% of shoppers dislike purchasing online because they don’t want to have to deal with returning it if it doesn’t turn out right. 

One way to address that is by creating a video that shows your potential customers how easy it will be to return the product if it doesn’t turn out right.

8. Highlight Certain Items in Your Store

There’s a reason why brick-and-mortar stores have displays in their windows. By showcasing certain products, they’re more likely to grab people’s attention and pull them inside. 

The same goes for your eCommerce store. Highlighting certain items in your store, like your best-selling products or recently added items, is effective because it draws attention to certain products, helping to make the decision-making process easier for customers. Here are a few badges that you could add to your products: 

  • Top-rated 
  • Best-seller 
  • Recently Added  
  • On Sale
  • Limited Edition 

In particular, highlighting your best-selling or top-rated items also works because it adds an element of social proof. You could simply display a “Best-seller” tag next to your most popular items or you could devote an entire page to your best-sellers. 

Amazon even has individual pages devoted to its best-selling items in each category:

bestselling items listed on Amazon.com

You could even get more specific with product badges and tell your visitors exactly what your product is useful for. For example, if you sell a variety of different jackets, you could add product badges to each jacket that tells shoppers what type of weather the jacket is best suited for (ie: freezing cold weather, torrential downpours, tornado-like wind).

9. Provide Them With Support 

According to eConsultancy, 83% of shoppers need support during the buying process[6]. And they expect to get it quickly; 48% of shoppers will abandon the site if they don’t get the help they need within five minutes. 

So how can you provide them with that support? Make sure that you have a live chat installed on your website—and that it’s manned by personnel from your organization. You should also have your phone number prominently displayed on your site, so people know how to reach you.

Recap: Easing Customer Decision-Making to Increase eCommerce Sales

Your shoppers are overloaded with options on a day-to-day basis. Having many choices might attract them at first, but it will often result in decision paralysis and buyer’s remorse. 

To prevent this from happening, reduce your customers’ cognitive load and provide them with a limited number of options. Follow the 80/20 rule: Focus on the 20% of your products that are generating 80% of your sales…and get rid of all the rest. 

Also, remember that reducing cognitive load isn’t just about reducing the number of options you offer your customers; it’s also about making the shopping and decision-making process as easy as possible for them. 

To that end, increase “decision simplicity” and: 

  1. Have just one primary CTA. 
  2. Bundle your products that go well together so your shoppers don’t have to go around looking for them.
  3. Provide social proof of previous happy customers.
  4. Personalize the choices that you offer your customers; if you aren’t sure what they’re interested in, have them take a quiz to find out! 
  5. Simplify your website, so that it’s easy to navigate and find things.
  6. Provide comparison charts for your products that are similar to one another. 
  7. Offer a killer guarantee so that your customers don’t feel as much pressure on their buying decision.
  8. Try grabbing your customers’ attention by highlighting certain items in your store with product badges. 
  9. Provide them with as much support as possible during the buying process. 

And whatever you end up doing, be sure to test to find out what tactics are most effective for your store and audience. 
If you do all of that, then you’re sure to reduce your customers’ cognitive load, ease their decision-making process⁠, and most importantly, increase eCommerce sales.

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Shanaz Khan from VWO

Hi, I am Shanaz from the VWO Research Desk.

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