Is choosing a luxury or a necessity?

American citizens recently had a choice to make: that’s what democracy is all about! But is choice really desirable in all cases? Is it an added value for our society or, in the corporate context, for our customers?

In this article, I share with you the results of studies related to human psychology. By better understanding how humans make decisions, you’ll be able to make life easier for your customers, giving them the chance to choose the right thing at the right time!

A limited number of choices each day

Do you remember how Steve Jobs used to dress? Jeans and a black T-shirt. Simple, no thinking in the morning, no decisions to make. Our brains are very powerful, but faced with a multitude of choices, they can become saturated.

We have a limited decision-making potential every day. That’s why we hesitate or feel tired at the end of the day. Democracy, based on the free will (and therefore free choice) of each individual, leads us to believe that choosing is good. It’s true! But to a certain extent, offering a person too many futile choices doesn’t help.

Several studies have been carried out on the subject. Social psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on human interactions and behaviors influenced by others. Like all science, it is based on experiments.

In one study, researchers evaluated the impact of choice on purchasing behavior. In one store, customers were offered to taste one jam from a selection of 3, others from a selection of 15. In conclusion, those with the least choice bought more jam than the others! Why? Risk aversion. With 15 varieties, the risk of making a mistake is greater than with just three options. As a result, the decision is more difficult to make, and the individual prefers not to make a decision. As the decision is too difficult, the customer opts for a non-choice, which is a sort of default choice.

The art of simplifying your customers’ lives

In the various interactions with your customers, how many decisions do you ask them to make? How many decisions are really important? How many options do you offer? Do 15 car paint colors add value? Would a selection of 5 colors be enough?

Are your customers leaning towards non-choice? For example, if your take-up rate for an option is very low, is it because customers are refusing this option? Maybe they just don’t want to make a decision! Faced with this problem, you could adopt the opposite approach, which consists of prescribing a choice that can be refused (opt-out) rather than proposing a choice to be accepted (opt-in). You could potentially go from a 10% opt-in rate to a 10% opt-out rate (and therefore a 90% opt-in rate).

For example, Health Canada prescribes that brown bread (or wholemeal bread) is healthier than white. Instead of offering the customer a choice (white or brown bread?), if all restaurants suggested brown bread, leaving the choice of refusing for white, then brown bread consumption would probably increase. In the end, customers’ overall satisfaction would increase, as they would be faced with one less choice in their daily lives.

Choice should be useful, not a lure or a false sense of freedom, which prevents customers from focusing on the most important choices in their lives.