Comparison Could Be Killing Your Online Business

March 9, 2017

Of every topic constantly floating around the ecommerce community, there’s one you rarely hear about, but is most certainly something that should always be on your mind… The Paradox of Choice

Other than “low prices” and “convenience” related factors, the thing that makes industry giants like Amazon such an attractive solution for many online shoppers is their wide selection of products. There’s almost nothing you can search for on Amazon that won’t result in a list of thousands of products to choose from.

So, as an ecommerce store owner (or manager), logic tells you a few things. If your product is good & competitively priced, shipping is quick and you have a wide selection, you’ll be successful.

Psychology says different.

The Paradox of Choice is the idea that, by overwhelming your shoppers with too many choices, you’re paralyzing them from making a choice at all.

How Do We Know?

Studies by hundreds of nationwide chain restaurants and retailers have proven the Paradox of Choice to be true for their businesses, but a simple experiment conducted by a grocery store simply shows the validity of this ideal.

The store conducted 2 tasting sessions, one of which allowed shoppers to sample from a selection of 24 jams, the other, just 6.


As you can see, even though the tasting that offered 24 varieties attracted more shoppers, only 3% of them actually bought jam. And, though the smaller variety attracted a smaller percentage of shoppers, nearly a third of everyone that sampled bought jam (10x the amount of the larger sampling).

This tells us that when we present shoppers with too many options, they are 10 times less likely to make the decision to buy.

What it Means for Ecommerce Businesses

As online business owners, we are far from immune to this paradox. Quite the opposite, in fact. And for a few reasons:

  • Every year, the average attention span of an online shopper decreases. According to an article by Time Magazine, goldfish now have a greater attention span than most people do (which is about 8 seconds).
  • There are an abundant amount of resources for almost any need a shopper may have, and twice as many opinions on the matter floating around online.
  • The internet, being the all-encompassing information superhighway that it is, is already an extremely overwhelming place for an interested shopper to find themselves.

With these facts compounded, it’s quite easy to see why a shopper presented with a plethora of products to address a single need could become paralyzed from making a decision at all…

They’re inundated with information on the topic & solutions to address the need, don’t have time or attention span to sift through and find the best option, and they’re afraid that they might make the wrong choice to begin with.

How To Know if The Paradox of Choice Affecting Your Business

There are 2 things you should ask yourself when deciding what affect the paradox of choice is having on your business:

  1. Am I offering too many solutions to the same problem?
  2. Is my checkout process causing any overwhelm?

Your shoppers have, more than likely, had a hard time just trying to find you. Your job, at this point, is to minimize the amount of choices the customer should need to make to complete a purchase.

Conduct a Product Analysis

In order to understand exactly what effect the Paradox of Choice is having on your online sales, there’s a few more questions you’ll need to ask yourself, and a few tasks to complete.

  • How many needs do my products serve? List them and be specific.
  • How many products in my store address each of the needs listed? Categorize your products by “needs addressed”. Only categorize each product once (don’t put the same product in 2 different categories).
  • What are the similarities in the products in these categories that could be causing customers to over-compare them to one another?
  • Are the products similar enough to warrant testing out the removal of the lower selling item(s).

At this point, you should be armed with enough information to decide whether the amount of products on your site is paralyzing your customers from making the decision to buy, and whether it is having enough of an effect to warrant product removal.

It’s important to note that making the decision to remove products should only be done as a test, though. At the end of the test, you’ll want to re-analyze your products in their original categories and look for sales upticks in the categories in which products were removed.

Other ways to cut down on comparison-based paralysis is to offer advanced filtering options in your online store. This is one of the ways Amazon is able to reduce the effect of this paradox on their sales.


How It Affects Your Current or Past Customers

One important item Barry Schwartz’s, author of “The Paradox of Choice | Why More is Less”,  discusses in his book is the effect that the paradox has on current customers. According to Schwartz, if someone does make it through the decision making process of an otherwise “paralyzing” purchase, they are more likely to be dissatisfied with their purchase.

This is due to the consumer’s natural tendency to compare what they’ve purchased to what they could’ve purchased. So, another major thing to consider is the effect the Paradox of Choice is having on the lifetime value of your customers, which could play a major role in your ability to grow and scale your business.

Overwhelm Comes in Many Forms

“Too many choices” doesn’t only come in the shape of “too many products”. Your checkout process can cause just as much overwhelm and paralysis as your store itself.

Guiding your shoppers through the checkout process with clearly defined CTA’s, minimized page navigation, and a streamlined checkout process can be equally as important as an optimized product line.

Here’s a few things to looks for when analyzing your checkout process:

  • Does my CTA button(s) stand out?
  • Does the shipping address auto-fill with info from the billing address fields?
  • Am I forcing customers to register for an account in order to complete a checkout?
  • Have I removed all page navigation from my cart?

Other Checkout Flaws to Look Out For

If the Paradox of Choice is playing a role in your store’s conversion rate, there’s a good chance it’s not the only thing!

Download our free ecommerce conversion e-book “15 Checkout Flaws to Avoid” for a full list of ways you can optimize your store and checkout process to increase conversion and reduce cart abandonment!