Your customers will not remember what they choose

Choice can be confusingCity spivs might not choose to vote Liberal Democrat again after being attacked by Business Secretary, Vince Cable, today. They might choose to vote for another political party in the future. On the other hand, though, they might forget all about this little spat and support the coalition party once more. Who knows? Well, the spivs probably don’t. Humans are afflicted by a phenomenon known as choice blindness. When we actively choose something, later on it can be frequently demonstrated that we don’t really know what we chose. We think we know, but we don’t. In fact, laboratory studies show we usually get it wrong.

For instance, when people are shown photographs of potentially attractive partners and asked to choose one, later on they can be shown “their choice” and asked to explain their reasons for selection. But the researchers have made a sneaky switch and replaced the chosen image with another one. Yet, the participants confidently explain why they “chose” that picture.

Now, an ingenious study from Sweden has shown that “choice blindness” extends to taste AND the blindness occurs immediately. People were asked to select a favourite jam by tasting some samples. Once they had chosen one, they were asked if they would like another spoonful. But the researchers had switched the jams, providing people with a “second spoon” of a completely different jam. Less than one in five people noticed the change; most people thought they were tasting the same jam. What is curious is the fact that the jams on offer were so obviously different – one was apple and cinnamon, while another was bitter grapefruit. You would think you could tell the difference. Yet, within moments, people were unable to realise the difference.

It appears that when we choose something, within a short space of time we have actually forgotten our selection – yet we are convinced we know what we chose. This latest study confirms other work which demonstrates we are keen to make choices but then immediately forget them. In other words the act of choosing is more important to us than what we select.

On your website this has important implications. Choosing, selecting, being in control is something we cherish. Your visitors want to make choices; it is an important part of feeling we “are in charge”. By providing choices, say, in the selection of products for sale, you can allow people to feel in control over their purchases. Even if you only sell ebooks, perhaps having a selection such as “PDF format” or “ZIP format” will allow people to make a selection process.

But once they have selected, remind them of their choice; they will have forgotten. The mere reminder of the selection made by your website visitors confirms their control over the situation. Because these studies on choice blindness actually point to the desire to be “in charge” anything you can do to emphasise that your shoppers are indeed “in charge” will make it more likely that they like your website.

In other words, subtle reminders that people are choosing what to do with your site helps confirm in their mind that they are doing what THEY want with your site and not being led by you. And even if they are not really making significant choices, letting them see the choices they have made will be a benefit in terms of connecting and engaging with your visitors.

And if you are a City Spiv, no doubt as Vince Cable reminds you of his party’s policies over the coming few years of government, you will eventually agree that you chose the Liberal Democrats and voted for them all along….!


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Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+
Graham Jones


Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist, professional speaker and author of 32 books who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers
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