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  • Writer's pictureLarissa Lewis

Are you losing sales by giving customers too much information?

Updated: May 18, 2022

Our brains make nearly 35,000 decisions a day. Yet so many websites put the onus on us, the customer, to sort and wade through it all to find the product that's best for us. You don't want your website to read like a homework assignment.

You want to think of yourself as a tour guide, helpfully nudging folks in the right direction and only showing them products they'll love. Let's look at some handy examples for the best ways to help customers through the decision-making process!

The truth is clear, yet many businesses still choose to ignore it. Businesses frequently assume that offering more information and choices will make their customers happier. It’s easy to assume that by providing 20 cell phones in a product line that there will be “something for everyone!”

But in fact, it’s quite the opposite!

When faced with a large offering of product options or data points, customers are increasingly likely to do precisely what you don’t want them to do: head for the hills! They'll abandon the decision-making process entirely and not buy anything at all.

Yes, you can give too much information.

The interesting read, “The Art of Choosing,” outlines how psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper tested this exact point.

In this classic experiment, the researchers set up two display tables at a local market. Both stands sampled jams and provided a $1 coupon off your choice of flavor. The only difference? One display offered six jams, while the other offered a whopping 24 flavors.

While the table with a more extensive variety attracted more interest, fewer customers made a purchase. Shockingly, 30% of customers who visited the smaller table happily walked off with their jam of choice, while a mere 3% of those faced with a daunting 24 options decided to buy.

A product may have one hundred amazing features and specs, but that won’t close the sale. Instead, the right handful of features positioned as the answer to a customer need or solution to a problem is far more effective.

Even though ‘choice’ may sound like a compelling offer, it can actually drive the brain into an overwhelmed state. We're too agitated to decide and feel like no decision is the right one. So we decide to abandon ship. Websites that are simply an "information dump" trigger the same fight-or-flight experience.

Think more is always better? Too many product options overwhelm customers and negatively influence their decision to buy.

It’s crazy to assume that most customers will do this brain-exhausting research!

Simply put, most customers will not click around every choice on your website, wade through a long list of features, or self-compare technical minutiae to conclude which choice is right for them.

Instead, you should consider what customer need a particular data-point satisfies. A product may have one hundred amazing features and specs, but that won’t close the sale. Instead, the right handful of features positioned as the answer to a customer need or solution to a problem is far more effective.

Think of your website as a conversation

If you’re speaking face-to-face with someone, you’re unlikely to inundate them with numbers, figures, and disconnected stats off the top of your head.

So why would you do that on your website?

Here are some examples of questions companies might ask in-person to better understand what a customer is after:

  • Cameras: So what kinds of photography are you into?

  • Batteries for handheld construction equipment: What weather conditions do you work in during the winter? 

  • Computers: Do you play a lot of online games or just need to surf the web?

  • Sofas: How many people live with you? Do you like to entertain guests?

  • Cars: Do you have any kids? Do you like to camp? How far do you drive to and from work each day?

Think of your website as the digital version of an in-person conversation between a potential customer and yourself or your best salesperson.

Your website should help customers through the process of making the best choice, not assign them a hefty research project.

What kinds of tools can we use on our website to replicate the powerful in-person conversations that guide customers through their decision-making process?

A popular way to sort your products by customer need instead of product specs is with a product selector or quiz that puts your customer first.

These are handy tools that ask questions about the customer in order to whittle down the list possible suggestions.

As a lighting company, you could ask, “do you want a bulb that is 10 lumens, 15 lumens, 100 lumens, or 500 lumens?”

Or, you could use a quick quiz to find out what the customer is looking to illuminate.“Do you need this for reading a menu in a dark restaurant, an emergency flashlight for the house, for outdoor walkway lamps, or to run on darkened trails at night?”

People love answering questions about themselves.

So much so, sites like Buzzfeed have built entire business models on it, humorously providing readers quizzes like, “Answer these questions and we’ll reveal if Tom Holland will Marry You,”and “Go shopping for snacks at Target and we’ll guess which ice cream flavor is your favorite.”

Although these are amusing cases, here are some quizzes that walk customers through a set of questions to cut vast offerings down to a helpful, streamlined list tailored to their needs.

Brooks: Shoe Finder

I’ll admit that you’ve probably seen this example from us before. But as a runner, it is one of my favorite examples.

Instead of just letting me click aimlessly around the site and self-research which shoes are good for running on the roads as opposed to trails, or which are good for low arches or high arches, Brooks asks relevant questions like, “Where do you want to run?”, and “In the past six months, have you had any pain or injuries in these areas?”

Their questions are conversational, and while I’m happily answering questions about my running, the quiz eliminates bad choices from my list of recommendations.

Have products that upgrade something the customer already owns?

This guide from the camera folks at Canon results in a list of lenses that work best for my unique needs. It starts by asking what camera model I presently own, then asks what kind of photography I am interested in shooting. Instead of listing out a self-aggrandizing long list of lens models to sift through (EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM! EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM! EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM!), they translate tech-y features into easy-to-answer questions that are important to me.

Sorting through networking, security, and collaborative tools for my business might seem like a daunting task. Cisco knows that customers might not know what they’re looking for. So they ask questions about my company's IT capabilities to learn if I have a team at the ready or if I plan to go it alone.

In my case, going it alone means I might need a little more help when it comes to Cisco products. Their quiz is straightforward and easy-to-follow, making this highly-technical product offering feel more curated to my individual needs.

If you’ve been to a Target home improvement aisle, you’ve likely seen the long display of Command hooks, each with a different weight capacity. Instead of translating that long aisle into an equally long digital list for the web, Command starts by asking about my project. I might not know that I need a hook for 4-5 lbs, but I do know if I am looking to “organize my space,” or “hang cleaning tools and supplies.” Then, more specifically, if I’m looking to “hang a mop or a broom.”

After the jam study, Iyengar continued on to say, “When consumers say they want more choice, more often than not, they actually want a better choosing experience.” Perhaps if the jam study started out with a representative asking what customers were planning to use the jam for (croissants, bagels, etc.) and then asked if they preferred sweet or tangy jams, the 24-jam display table would have generated more impressive sales results.

Providing the right product recommendations is the key to closing a sale. It is important to make the shift towards conversing with our customers about what matters to them, rather than simply talking up product data points.


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