In a World Full of Choice: Simplify

Imagine you’re presented with a box of Godiva chocolates. You can eat only one. Would you be happier to choose among six different types of candies, or would you rather select from 30 different options?

That’s what researchers set out to discover in an experiment aimed to shed light on the age-old question: How do people decide? Whether it’s which product to buy or which newsletter to read, consumers are faced with an overwhelming number of choices every day. In the Internet age, technology meant to simplify our lives instead often adds complexity. It provides people with a surfeit of choice that makes the old question more urgent.

In the Columbia University study, people took significantly more time (a scarce commodity) to make decisions when presented with 30 chocolates. They felt they had “too many” choices. Subjects reported finding the decision-making process enjoyable, although they also thought it was difficult and frustrating. When participants were given the choice of receiving a box of chocolates or $5 as compensation for their participation, only 12 percent of those faced with 30 choices “bought” the chocolates. Of those given only six options, 48 percent chose the chocolates.

The conclusion? “The… studies described in this report,” wrote Sheena Iyengar of Columbia and Mark Lepper of Stanford, the authors of the research, “demonstrate for the first time the possibility, that while having more choices might appear desirable, it may sometimes have detrimental consequences for human motivation.”

What does this mean for Web marketers? Think about how you present your content. Don’t overwhelm visitors or they could be struck by paralysis. The same goes for merchandise. Consumers can find excessive choice frustrating and difficult. It may, as with the chocolates, actually discourage them from buying.

This idea of quality over quantity informed ClickZ’s move to restructure our newsletters and Web site into “tracks” earlier this week. Logically organized groups unite the best of our columns by subject. Want to read about email marketing? Subscribe to our email marketing track. It’s much easier than before to ensure you’re getting the best and latest thinking in interactive marketing disciplines, particularly compared to the dot-com boom era, when our subscription page could barely contain all the checkboxes.

We said farewell recently to some long-time columnists and friends of ClickZ, although we expect many of them will weigh in as guests now and again. Thanks so much to Dana Blankenhorn, Peter Kaufman, Paul Bruemmer, Blake Rohrbacher, Chris Yeh, Philip Say, and Jonathan Jackson. You’ve all made significant contributions to ClickZ over the years, and we appreciate you sharing your wisdom and insights with your fellow practitioners.

Coinciding with recent departures are some happy returns. ClickZ’s founder and former publisher Andy Bourland will again appear on our virtual pages with a column about online publishing. Another writer whose musings you can start enjoying today is Edward Grossman, who will cover Email Infrastructure. This column discusses the nuts and bolts of getting email messages to prospects, customers, and subscribers.

Tig Tillinghast, a veteran ClickZ-er, turns his attention to a whole new subject. His experienced eye examines the creative processes behind messages marketers are crafting in this maturing medium.

We at ClickZ are eager to hear these new voices (and some old voices embracing new ideas). We’re sure you’ll gather insight from them you can put to work in your job. As the virtual and real worlds grow increasingly complex, we’ll work to provide you with easily accessible, yet rich, content — to help you navigate decisions you need to make every day.

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