INSIGHT: A Better Choosing Experience
Recently I wanted to expand my digital photography expertise from the point-and-shoot of my camera's basic mode into the creative world. I realized that I needed to have a complete understanding of all the fancy buttons and endless menu options on my camera that I always chose to ignore. Wanting more information than my owner's manual provided, I opted to head to my local Barnes & Noble and purchase a book on the subject. Upon arriving at the store, I was faced with trying to locate an unfamiliar section that I had never shopped before in a store that I was always very comfortable shopping. Of course I could have made things easier for myself and asked at the customer service desk, but being a typical male, I didn't want to ask for directions. So instead, I stood in the center of the store quickly scanning the categories on top of the fixtures, until I honed in on the word "photography."
Making a beeline for the section, I was suddenly faced with a wide assortment of books on photography. But where were the books on digital cameras? I looked to my right and saw the magical sign, "Digital Photography!" I positioned myself in front of the section and scanned through the books, arranged in alphabetical order (very logical I thought), and noticed under the "C" titles a book, Cannon Rebel T1I for Dummies. PERFECT! However, sitting right next to it was another book on the same subject (a much thinner book, mind you) with lots of photos and explanations of the "how-tos" written by a photographer. The dilemma: which to choose? I picked up both books, scanning the contents to decide what was the better option for educating myself about my camera. Both seemed to have the same information; in the end I decided on the thinner book written by the photographer. Why? It was written by someone I could trust, in language I could easily understand with simple explanations as to the whys behind the specific features of my camera and the benefits of what they would achieve. (Of course more pictures are always helpful.)
The point of my story is, as a customer, Barnes & Noble did a very good job at "paring down" information, and helping me navigate a sea of choice in an area that was unfamiliar territory for me. Here's why...
When consumers are overwhelmed with options, marketers should give them what they really want: ways of shopping that lower the cognitive demands of choosing.
Consumers have grown accustomed to having a lot of choices, and many people still express a strong desire for having more options. But that doesn't make it a good idea. There are neurological limits on a human's ability to process information, and the task of having to choose is often experienced as suffering, not pleasure.
That is why, rather than helping consumers to better satisfy their preferences, the explosion of choice has made it more difficult overall for people to identify what they want and how to get it. If the market for your product is saturated with choices, you can't gain a competitive edge by dumping more choices into the mix. Instead, you can outthink and outperform your competitors by turning the process of choosing into an experience that is more positive and less mind-numbing for your customers. You can design a more helpful form of choice. To accomplish this, here are four actions you can take:
Cut the alternatives: You've heard it said that "less is more," but that's rarely so in the context of consumer choice. If you are working hard to explain to your customers the differences between variations that you offer, then it's time to think about making a few cuts. Potential customers should be able to zero in on a product's defining characteristics and explain why it is or is not appealing to them. If people respond vaguely or inattentively, that's a signal that the choices you offer are not distinct enough and should be consolidated. Reducing options works well when the variations between products are relatively small.
Create confidence through recommendations: Marketers can help novice consumers make good, confident choices by giving them easy access to consumer reviews and recommendations. Advice can prove useful when there is a consensus among a large number of reviewers or when the consumer trusts the source. Another way to give consumers access to recommendations, especially when tastes vary or when a product has not been rated by experts or other users, is to set up automated systems that generate suggestions based on consumers' expressed preferences.
Categorize options: Experts in any field learn to simplify, categorize, and prioritize information, and to recognize patterns. In high-choice conditions, the ideal consumer is the most expert consumer. By pre-sorting products into categories, the marketer or retailer helps consumers look at the world through expert lenses. The categories established by a marketer or retailer provide a framework for making sense of a large assortment, thus keeping consumers from being discouraged by the daunting task of choosing. Marketers provide a general overview of the field, which catalyzes consumers' understanding and the development of their preferences within it.
- Condition for complexity: For certain kinds of decisions, you can set consumers up for success by encouraging them to learn from, and build upon, their own previous choices. This is especially valuable if your product is customizable. People can handle a large number of options if they start off in the shallows and then slowly move toward the deep, all the while building skill and nerve. Beginning with fewer options not only warms up consumers, it helps them to better understand their own preferences, which in turn enhances their choosing experience. Over time, practicing this choosing technique will condition consumers to cope with increasing complexity.
Understanding how consumers think and respecting their desire for both control and simplicity when navigating a world of options can help to distinguish your company. Rather than trapping people in a morass of alternatives, you'll be one of those rare companies whose offerings rise to the top by raising customer spirits.
Source: Sheena Iyengar and Kanika Agrawal
For more retail perspectives, please contact JP Terlizzi.