How much choice is too much for internet shoppers?

Researchers at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire have discovered some interesting new information on the effect of choice in buyer behaviour. According to the study published in Psychological Science, choice of available options has a varied effect on buyer behaviour.

Previous research suggested that choice actually prevented buyers from making a purchasing decision. There was evidence that people did not buy items if there was a multitude of choices. However, there is also research which shows that people do not buy if there is no choice.

The Dartmouth College researchers have looked at this conundrum and found that choice and buying behaviour are not linked in a straightforward manner. It seems that too few choices means less purchasing taking place, as does too many choices. There appears to be an “optimum” level of choice which makes it much more likely that people will buy.

In the study more than twice as many purchases were made for 10 choices compared with four choices. However, purchasing hit rock bottom for 16 options. In other words, if you give your buyers too few options to choose from, they will decide not to buy. Equally if you give your buyers too many options to choose from they also are less likely to buy. Having 10 options to choose from appears to be the level at which most purchases are made.

This has implications for the way web shops are designed. Too many items that can be seen or too few and you cut down your likely sales. Similarly, for single item sales letters, it would seem that having options to choose from would increase conversion rates as well. For instance, if you are selling an ebook perhaps give people the choice of having the ebook, the printed version, the audio version, the emailed version, the web page version or a package of all of these. Giving a selection like this would appear, from this research, to increase sales.

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