Choice is not necessarily a bad thing, but there comes a point when too much choice causes indecision, no decision, and potentially minimizes the opportunities for a business to grow.
Let me explain. When I was in college, I worked in a ski shop as the head mechanic and part time sales person (I actually loved selling, but enjoyed the mechanical work more). Selecting ski equipment can be overwhelming to many, as it is often difficult for the average person to keep up with technology and the impact on the products relative to their real needs. I recall one day, a young couple entered the shop looking to outfit the woman (her boyfriend already owned skis and was the “expert”). I managed to get her into a pair of boots that were comfortable and suitable for her skill level, and we walked over to the wall of skis to make a selection. “Oh my God!” she said, as she scanned the wall of perhaps 40 plus different skis, “how am I ever going to choose?” Great question given there were probably 4-5 different models she could realistically select, but she wouldn’t recognize any difference in performance at her level; so, the question in my mind was, how do I limit the choice and create an opportunity for her make an easy selection. The last thing I wanted to do was spend too much time providing too many choices, where the end result would end up being the same; as I could be helping other customers and increasing the overall revenue for the shop. Time is a commodity we can’t afford to waste, so I wanted to help her make a selection she would be happy with and avoid the prolonged, and sometimes painful process of choosing. After reviewing her skill level with her, I walked to the ski wall, removed two different models, placed them on an empty white wall and asked, “which one do you like better?” To which she replied, “Really? It’s that easy?”, and I explained, “Yes, these are two of the better choices, and it really just boils down to which one do you like better since you won’t really experience any difference in performance and you are your ultimate goal is to enjoy the skiing.”
I closed the sale in 30 seconds and she left the store with a smile on her face ready to hit the slopes (plus a new ski outfit and a few accessories).
The point of this story is, limitation of choices often is the best avenue for promoting selection and sales in any B2C or B2B environment. Keep in mind you ultimately want the customer to use and enjoy the product and/or service long term, over the process of selecting it. Over thinking and focusing on the minor differences is more a marketer’s goal than a buyer’s goal; as the marketer wants to establish some differentiation even it is insignificant, so as to promote a reason to buy their item over another. I get that, agree with it to some extent, but more from a competitive point of view over an internal view. And that is where the problem exists regarding too many choices; something exacerbated by the expansion of e-commerce sales.
Consider for a moment, how too many choices internally to a business, actually causes potential issues in both promoting a decision and bottom line performance. Amazon is a great example, as is any e-commerce site that tends to propagate their site with an abundance of products over a carefully curated selection; as what they are doing is both shifting the responsible or effort in parsing options and diluting their presentation. Amazon is an exception to some degree, as they are just so big and dominating in their category, and they don’t own much of the product; so their exposure is minimal and they really don’t care about the businesses that are ultimately supplying the product. That’s a drop ship mentality that has evolved by virtue of e-commerce. So, customers take too much time selecting, and focus more of their attention on the “deal” or price over the actually selection of a brand or relevant product – and that eats away at profitability.
Now put yourself in the shoes of a B2B business professional, and consider you are trying to select a software solution. What I just described above for the consumer is true for the business professional; and many times they get sucked into making a choice based on price as the number one criteria over the substance of the product. Or, they may focus so much on the details of the solution over accomplishing the business tasks in relationship to their entire business; and the process for making the choice may be prolonged and detrimental to their ultimate goal of helping their business perform the tasks required to drive the revenue needed to excel and sustain their business. Take this a step further, and look at companies that may be promoting multiple products with similar characteristics internally, assuming the customer will ultimately tell them which one is the better of the two (or three, or four, etc.). The problem with this is it does the same thing as the large catalog on an e-commerce site; makes the selection confusing and dilutes the value of each of the products (or service).
Don’t get me wrong, choice is good…to a degree; but, it’s too easy to shift the bourdon for making the choice to the buyer without taking responsibility at the business level to parse the presentation and promote a better, more informed decision. In the end, this just creates a business environment where the dilution of the presentation creates excess and often redundant work, spreads resources thin, and ultimately erodes the bottom line.
Before your customer can make a choice, you need to first make a few yourself.