Analysis paralysis- choosing the right door

American psychologist Barry Schwartz published his book, The Paradox of Choice, in 2004. He argues that collectively, consumers have been given more choice and freedom than ever before, which actually hinders them from making effective decisions. Analysis paralysis is a direct result of too many options presented, often paralyzing the consumer from purchasing your products.

What is analysis paralysis?

Analysis paralysis is the act of over-thinking so much about a specific decision that no decision can be made due to fear of making the wrong choice. It can be small in scale or quite large, but the all-consuming paralysis is all too real. 

Just think about choosing a place to eat dinner with a group of friends. If someone makes the choice for you, it’s fairly easy to go along with the group. But if that decision is left solely in your hands, the amount of options and cuisines in your given area can create a pause in the actual booking of the dinner. You end up wasting time by doing too much research and in turn overthinking your decisions. Too much choice causes anxiety for those who are fearful of not making the best decision.

This happens when choosing products from ecommerce merchants as well. With so many brands to choose from and so many products within each of those brands, consumers are faced with overwhelming choices daily. Utilizing some of the key points from Schwartz’s book, let’s dive into the strategies you can use to help avoid analysis paralysis. 

Help customers figure out their goals

Whether by impulse or planning, customers will often ask themselves, “What do I want?” Typically this falls within a certain category—let’s say, shampoo. However, when customers head to a traditional store, the aisles are filled with 50+ versions, adding complexity and stress to their decision making process. 

As an ecommerce merchant, you have the benefit of curating options for your consumers in ways where they don’t have to exhibit as much mental energy to purchase an item. The use of things like quizzes or questionnaires can tailor their experience even further by clarifying their goals. The results of those quizzes are often a specially selected set of products that help them make a decision.

Coffee table

Weigh the importance of each of their goals

These quizzes and questionnaires can also help clarify the importance of your customers’ goals. Oftentimes, consumers aren’t 100% sure of the problem they’re trying to solve, so providing them with your expertise and educational content can help them in their research phase. When they feel ready to make a purchase, your direction will help guide them to the best choice for them.

Clearly array the options for customers

It’s uncommon for merchants to limit their product offerings to a single thing. In fact, the value of being an ecommerce merchant who can offer subscriptions is you can tailor your products to the ever-changing needs of your customers. Arraying the options in a clean and clear way can help consumers navigate your offerings effectively during their research. 

Studies show that three to five options, like shown below with Babe Cosmetics, is the perfect number of choices for consumers. Providing clear options for add-ons can also help you increase average order value through cross-selling. 

Additionally, you can introduce new products to your target audience without leading them to overthink by sending small samples of new products in their regular shipment. In doing so, you expose them to something new without causing analysis paralysis. 

Babe Cosmetics uses 4 plan options to tailor plans for their customers.

Evaluate how likely each of the options is to meet their goals

For larger purchases, say, in the Home & Garden vertical, a great way to help your customers evaluate how closely each product meets their needs would be in a comparison page. Many merchants often do this via a series of checklists that show the differences in each product and help consumers weigh the options as to which one will best serve them. It’s important not to lose sight of their original goal, and help them stop overanalyzing if they’re making the wrong choice.

Stay ahead as they modify their goals

Congratulations! You’ve made a sale, which means your customer has overcome analysis paralysis. But humans are complex, and consumer habits shift and change frequently. Anticipating their needs is complicated, but also wildly valuable. If you can stay ahead of their goal modification, and provide a fresh perspective to them as those needs change, you are able to stay top of mind in their decision making process. 

Are customers making the right or wrong decision?

A big piece of analysis paralysis for customers is the innate feeling that they may make the wrong choice. The choices themselves may be as benign as choosing where to eat for dinner, but may feel as life-changing as choosing the right treatment for a health concern. Consumers want to feel safe, so providing the information they may need up front will help mitigate that concern. For example, in the skincare industry, many consumers want to ensure the ingredients used are safe. Giving them clear insight into what is included can help them make a decision as to what is right for them.

Another way to help consumers feel safe and not suffer from analysis paralysis is to provide trust examples. Putting things like reviews up front or including testimonials from real customers gives your prospects opportunities to self-vet your products. 

Finally, a way to mitigate the fear of making the wrong decision is to reassure your customers that they aren’t locked in to their decision. For example, clearly communicate that they have options to return or exchange their products if they aren’t working for them. Many subscription merchants also offer flexible options to assure customers that they’re not locked in to a specific flavor or product set. 

These tactics not only benefit your consumers, but also your business. In the State of Subscription Commerce Report, we found that among top-tier merchants, almost all of them provided flexible options to their customers. Allowing them to skip a shipment and swap out products mitigates the fear that they are locked in, while still limiting the overwhelming choice of options.

The bottom line: Being empathetic to your customers’ thought processes in this way goes a long way. Prioritize their need to feel safe when making a decision, create room for flexibility whenever possible, and clearly communicate that flexibility throughout the customer journey. By reducing the mental load on their part, you can not only increase lifetime value for your business—you can create loyal, trusting customer relationships.