Ten years ago an American psychologist wrote a book which swiftly became seminal to an entirely new approach to providing a superlative customer experience in every regard and through every channel. While conventional marketing wisdom had long taught that the best way to truly engage your customer was to provide them with a vast variety of rich choices where they could find fulfillment in selecting exactly what they wanted, Barry Schwartz argued in his book The Paragon of Choice: Why More is Less that minimizing consumer choices can actually ameliorate the customer experience by reducing the shopper’s anxieties! This may seem as heresy to online marketers raised on tossing everything but the kitchen sink at consumers but Schwartz’s book poses some very powerful arguments which are difficult to dispute.

Massive choice decimates the customer experience

Schwartz focuses on what has been called the voluntary simplicity movement. This concept is based on the fact that today’s consumer is swamped by far too many choices calling for too many decisions. For example, instead of reveling at the ability to choose between hundreds of different smartphones, the consumer actually recoils from that massive level of choice thereby decimating the entire customer experience which the smartphone retailer was trying to achieve in the first place.

Humans seek social fabric consensus, not individual choice

Some of Schwartz’s key findings include the determination that choice does not equal happiness. The abundance of choice is not liberating at all but actually leads to feelings of isolation and even depression. Americans pay for their elevated levels of affluence and liberty with the disappearance of the quality and quantity of community interactions. The social fabric which earlier generations could rely on to be provided by family and friends is now largely a self-invention created through deliberated and demanding options. This factor can be paraphrased by the concept that we as humans would much rather go along with the consensus of our peers than make our own individual choices. The community choice is usually seen as preferable to the one made by ourselves.

Too much choice leads to the suspicion of missed opportunity

Another factor is the missed opportunities of over-choice. When customers are faced with having to select a single option out of too many, they begin to consider the trade-offs that they are making. Thereby these options are not seen as a positive at all but as the missed opportunity of the alternative selection.

The fewer bonbons to choose from, the tastier they are

Schwartz recounts a very interesting experiment where it was determined that lack of choice actually improved the customer experience. Groups of consumers were given a choice of various numbers of chocolate bonbons to taste, then they were asked how satisfied they were with what they tasted. It turns out that the consumers who had a much smaller choice of bonbons stated that the ones that they did eat were better than the ones who were offered a much larger choice. Since there was no effective difference in the actual bonbons offered to the test consumers, this discovery goes a long way to prove that when a customer is restricted in choice what they actually do end up choosing is more satisfactory!

Lack of choice is liberating

Online marketers can certainly leverage these psychological conclusions by taking a good hard look at how they are presenting their entire brand offerings to the consumer. While most online catalogs see it as a matter of brand pride to offer literally hundreds or even thousands of choices when it comes to everything from mp3 players to shoes, they are actually doing a disservice to the customer by minimizing, not maximizing their experience. The psychological evidence seems to point to the fact that if these endless catalog selections were distilled down to a few alluring, practical, well-priced products, the customer would not react by clicking away to the competitor with the more extensive catalog, but would see it as a liberating and utterly more satisfying customer experience.

Keep your customer experience metrics high by restricting their choices. It may seem absurd, but the psychological evidence supports the conclusion!