Don’t leave customers spoilt for choice

Posted: Saturday 26th November 2011 in Paid Media, Retail Strategy, Thought Leadership.

Overwhelming people with too much choice could trigger site abandonmen

“There are 448 products matching your search.”

All I was doing was looking for a laptop on the e-commerce site of a well-known retailer. 

We’re all getting overwhelmed with information and, seemingly, it’s getting worse. According to Miller’s Law, we’re all limited to storing seven ‘chunks’ of data in our working memory. Throw any more at us and we struggle.

Yet despite the theory being relatively well-known (it dates back to the 50s), the Internet is cluttered with e-commerce sites that do little more than bombard potential customers with information; which certainly doesn’t aid the sales process.

So what steps can be taken to ease the decision-making process and improve conversion from browser into customer?

With almost all product lists auto-generated, it’s vital to include an element of human intervention to ensure pages remain useable.

  • Restrict the number of products per page, so users don’t get immediately overawed.
  • Plan product categorisation to avoid bloating and endless sub-categories.
  • Perform keyword research to identify the phrases customers are using; then use this information to inform product categories and site navigation.
  • Display all products? Or hive-off less popular items to ease navigation?

The next step in the process is to help visitors when they’re drilling down to specific products.

  • Allow product lists to be refined by relevant criteria (i.e. TVs by type, screen size, price etc)
  • Provide a product comparison facility to let visitors select multiple products and perform a side-by-side comparison.
  • Display products in a context that aids understanding (e.g. an estate agent could show properties on an interactive map).

The final step in the triumvirate is product guidance. Rather than letting visitors fend for themselves, consider some of these helping hands:

  • Prominent display of special offers, best sellers and web exclusives.
  • Provide ‘social proof’, using the opinions of others to influence decisions. From Facebook ‘Like’ buttons to user-generated reviews, the reinforcement of social media is a powerful sales driver.
  • Allow visitors to see more about individual products without needing to click through. Selfridges ‘Sneak a peek’ pop-up is a great example, providing basic product information when a visitor hovers over a product image.
  • Simplify product messaging as much as possible. Apple sells a 160Gb iPod on the basis of it storing 40,000 songs not the technical specifications.

Empowering visitors is more likely to turn them into customers. Uncertainty and overwhelming choice are never going to drive sales, so remove these barriers from your e-commerce site whenever possible.

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