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What is choice paralysis?

Choice paralysis is the inability to choose, or being frozen in the process because of mental or emotional overload. This can impact your website, the services or products that you sell, and all of your marketing. The last thing we want our marketing to do is to paralyze decisions! We want to help people make good ones!

Here are some stats:

  • About 8 in 10 of the choice paralysis situations occur with big decisions.
  • The more the decision relates to something tied to a persons identity, the greater the likelihood.
  • This problem can occur within your own brand, or across brands.

Choice paralysis is fed by the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) that can lead to Decision Regret. We don’t want to regret our choice, so we become paralyized.

What research tells us

The most famous experiment occurred in 2000 by Columbia University. They set out to better understand how people would convert from interest to sale based on more or less choices. During the time periods when 24 flavors were offered, 60% of people stopped to sample the jams, compared to 40% when only 6 flavors were offered. These numbers seem in favor of more choices, but the important question is this: which group purchased more?

Of the customers who sampled 24 flavors, only 3% purchased, but of the customers who sampled 6, 30% purchased.

If you run those numbers based on 100 people, 60 would stop when 24 flavors were offered, but less than 2 purchase (1.8 to be exact). When 6 flavors were sampled, 40 stopped at the table, and 12 purchased.

How can you use this science to prevent choice paralysis?

  • Simplify. Consider the entire purchasing process, and all of the decisions someone is forced to make. How many buttons can they click on when you send out an email? How many menu choices to they have on your website? What are the ways they can convert and actually buy something?
  • Re-consider your offerings. There is a reason that most large brands offer three pricing columns. Typically, we'll buy the middle offer -- and they know that. The lower offer doesn't usually include what we need, and the the most expensive offer is more than we want to spend. The middle option is truly the happy medium. And, it helps us feel good about our decision. How can you apply the rule of three in your offerings?
  • Build trust. Part of choice paralysis is the fear of making the wrong decision. The more trust you've earned, the easier their decision will become. What value do you bring to the table that doesn't require someone to buy? How are you helping them discover their choices and feel good about their decision?



Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

David Mills

Written by David Mills

David is one of the founders of Story Collaborative and serves as the Chief Growth Officer. He is passionate about finding the right strategy for each client and helping them move into sustainable growth. He is a veteran of organizational development and communications and has worked with thousands of businesses and nonprofits across the country.