Choices are a good thing. People like choices. As individuals, we value being able to choose what we want to use, look at or buy. When choice is limited, it’s human nature to feel gypped. There’s a movie theatre in the small town my brother lives in and every Thursday, the owner changes the one movie that is shown at that theatre. There’s a multiplex in the next town so that’s where he often heads.
Too many choices?
However, choice can sometimes be overwhelming. I was in a bookstore at the airport and needed something to read on the plane (this was before my Kindle). The goal, a fun read that had nothing to do with web sites, usability or search engines. After fifteen minutes, I came out of the store with nothing. My husband asked why. Surprisingly, there were too many choices. I couldn’t make up my mind. Did I want a mystery, a novel, a “beach” book? I just didn’t know what to choose. Now I’m usually decisive, but the number of choices was overwhelming. Eventually, I did find a book, but it took much more time than it should have.
After this experience, it got me thinking and I thought of many of the usability principles that I discuss with clients.
Choice and the User Experience
Give people a lot of choices and it turns out that many won’t choose at all. I hate to say it but research shows that people aren’t as logical as they believe they are. They will say they want choices, but in various tests, the more choices, the less action. What then helps people make a decision?
Let’s go back to the bookstore example.
There are different strategies to getting people to make decisions.
Limit the choices – This option is pretty self-explanatory. If people only have a few choices to make or can interact with someone (either in person or via a web chat) who can offer options, a decision usually occurs.
Scarcity – At the bookstore, there was several displays. Many showed the spine of the book. There were a few places in this section where books faced out, one behind the other, up to 5 deep. Among these forward facing books, there was one selection that only had one book left. Did this mean that this book was so good that all the other books had already been taken? It certainly made that book look tempting. Why? Scarcity coupled with validation. When people believe there are only a few left, they want to possess the item and if they think others wanted it, they also believe it to be a good choice.
Peer Pressure and Validation – Among the books were two sections I noticed; New York Times Bestsellers and Our Customers Favorites. What did these two sections have in common? There was a sense of comfort knowing that others liked these books. If many people liked these, then surely, I would like one of these ten books. I was presented with a limited selection of books and was being told that these were liked by others.
What did I learn and what can you learn from my experience?
No matter how much we believe logic influences our decisions, there are multiple other factors that work on an unconscious level. I’ve studied usability and have designed sites for years, and yet, I found myself being unable to make decisions based on my original thought of buying a book for entertainment. Ultimately, I was influenced by the masses – the so many people like this concept.
Unfortunately, the book I chose, wasn’t a favorite. But I look forward to my next bookstore or Kindle store adventure. The possibilities are endless. (Oh wait…)
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