The Problem With Too Many Options In Business

I get stressed out whenever I eat at the Cheesecake Factory. Don’t get me wrong, the Cheesecake is delicious, but have you seen their ginormous menu?!

It’s too much!

Every time I go there, I don’t know what to order. Should I get the Fettuccine Alfredo?  Nah, how about a pizza?

In the end, I play it safe and go with a simple Chinese Chicken Salad or the Cobb Salad. Still, I can’t help but feel annoyed by the time I order because I’m over-whelmed by all of the choices and I don’t know what to get. All I know at the time the waiter comes to take my order is I need a drink and I’d better leave some room for cheesecake.

The Famous Jam Study

Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business at Columbia University and author of “The Art of Choosing,” conducted a study in 1995. Professor Iyengar and her research assistants set up a booth in a gourmet market with several samples of Wilkin & Sons jams. Every couple of hours, they switched from offering a large selection of jams (24) to just offering 6 jams. On average, customers tasted two jams. Then, regardless of the size of the assortment of jams, each one received a coupon for $1 off one of the Wilkin & Sons jam.

Care to take a guess as to which group bought more jam?

60% of customers were drawn in by the large assortment of jam, while only 40% stopped by the smaller selection. But 30% of people who sampled from the smaller selection decided to actually buy the jam. Only 3% of those individuals who stopped by and sampled the larger selection purchased a jar.

What does this tells us? In the words of Professor Iyengar:

The presence of choice might be appealing as a theory, but in reality, people might find more and more choice to actually be debilitating.

Thus explaining how I feel every time I eat at the Cheesecake Factory. I’m more annoyed at ordering from their 30-page menu than excited to eat a good meal.

What does this mean for your business?

Think about it from two perspectives here:

  1. How easy is it to navigate your website? Is it clear, upon landing on your home page, what action you want site visitors to take next?
  2. How easy is it to understand your product/service offering? Is your pricing structure clearly defined? Are you clearly explaining the benefits?

If you’re failing on the first point, then you’re not keeping site visitors engaged on your site long enough to consider your offer. You need to do some tweaking to fix that. If you’re failing on the second point, you just need to be a little more clear in your service offering. Ditch the big menu, keep it simple, and tell what it is exactly that I’m getting from your product/service. Make it easy for me to make a decision, don’t over-whelm me.

What do you think? What changes could you make to your marketing to make you the obvious choice for doing business with?

Comments

  1. says

    Ricardo, great post. And more importantly, I couldn’t agree more abou the Cheesecake factory! I get stressed even thinking about it! That menu is like a book.

    And more to the point, I can’t help but think if they have that many choices they can’t all be great. Right?! 

    When I go to a restaurant and I get a menu that is only one page I know they are throwing their A game on every item. I like that. 

    • says

      Hey Seth, 

      And I like reading books… But the menu is definitely a little over-whelming. Then I almost always end up not liking my meal which is why I play it safe now and go with the salad. I’m definitely a “less is more” kinda guy. 

  2. says

    Good post Ricardo!! :) Hey, have you ever seen this talk on the Paradox of Choice? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO6XEQIsCoM Amazing what ‘progress’ does to us!

    • says

      Hmm… I can’t recall if I have or haven’t but I always love a good TED Talk so thank you for sharing!! And incidentally, since I love to read, I’ll have to check out his book too :-)

      Thanks for dropping in Mari!

  3. says

    Agreed. Less is more. Cheesecake Factory is a perfect example. I’m always overwhelmed by their menu options and don’t usually like what I end up ordering because I really don’t think they can perfect all of what they offer which is why they have so many complaints. The best restaurants succeed with a limited menu. A little off topic since I’m talking about food but I think the same principal applies :)

  4. says

    Agreed. Less is more. Cheesecake Factory is a perfect example. I’m always overwhelmed by their menu options and don’t usually like what I end up ordering because I really don’t think they can perfect all of what they offer which is why they have so many complaints. The best restaurants succeed with a limited menu. A little off topic since I’m talking about food but I think the same principal applies :)

    • says

      First, I didn’t realize they had “many complaints.” I thought everybody loved that place! For me though, that menu is too darn over-whelming. I never know what to order and I just end up staring at the menu for an hour (ok, maybe not that long).

      I almost always end up being unsatisfied with my meal and yet I continue to go there, heh.

      Over all, whether we’re talking food, business, etc. I’m of the opinion that less is more. Don’t spend so much time over-whelming and confusing your customers. Instead, make it simple and work on perfecting the process so that they enjoy the experience. 

      • says

        If you look at Yelp, you realize the menu the biggest complaint at almost every Cheesecake Factory. If you’re making 100+ items it’s hard to make them all perfect so yeah people complain when the food isn’t done right. 

        The Cheesecake however is on one page and no one complains about that. 

  5. Alexis Gonzalez says

    I concur. In fact, I’d take it a step further and say that people like being told what to do…hehe.

  6. says

    So true – too many options leads to analysis paralysis. Which is why I only go to the Cheesecake Factory to get cheesecake – and even then I end up standing in front of the display case for 10 minutes trying to figure out which one I REALLY want! When it comes to websites, provide as few options as is realistic. Customers will thank you for making their life easier and your bottom line will reflect that.

    • says

      We’re in the same boat Monica… I end up drooling over which one I want for like 30 minutes. Then I still almost always go with the simple, plain ol’ classic cheesecake, heh.

      In terms of websites, yes, less is more! The easier you make it for prospects to navigate and decide, the easier it’s going to be to convert them into clients. They’ll not only thank you for making it easy, they’ll evangelize you because of the process!

      • Monica Hemingway says

        That’s the trick though, isn’t it? Figuring out what’s just enough, what’s too much, and what’s not enough – and then sticking with just enough.

        Thanks for visiting my website – good to “see” you there :-)

        • says

          Heh, it was my pleasure Monica! 

          In terms of “what’s just enough.” I like the idea of surveying your readers. KISSinsights.com has an application that helps do this well and it’s not so intrusive. They have various questions that you can ask your readers, such as: 

          - Did you find what you were looking for? 
          - What would you like us to write about next? 

          …etc. 

          Check ‘em out. They’re pretty neat! 

    • says

      Hey Wilson, 

      Mari Smith (below) tuned me onto a great TED Talk by someone on the Paradox of Choice – well worth the watch. 

      In business terms, we have to think about the things we might be doing to confuse consumers. We might think that by offering more options, we’re giving them more reasons to buy, but are we really? Or are we crippling their ability to make a decision? As is the case when I look at the menu at the Cheesecake Factory. 

      Just something to think about… 

      Thanks for the comment!

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