Choice Paralysis: The Dangers of Too Many Options

Choice Paralysis: The Dangers of Too Many Options

Too Many Options Can Overwhelm People.

Having choices is a good thing, BUT there is a point when giving people too many can confuse them.

This is NOT what we want to happen when people are visiting our websites or sifting through what we have to offer. It’s all about streamlining, baby, and focusing our energy on making what we do have to offer the best it can be!

The more choices you offer, the better, right?

I mean….who doesn’t like VARIETY!

But… there is a point when too many options begin causing problems.

Enter “choice paralysis,” a term that I believe is penned by Barry Schwartz (see: More Isn’t Always Better).

Let’s talk about jam.


Because back in 2000, two psychologists out of Columbia and Stanford Universities published a study about it.

Their research assistants posed as store employees at a high-end grocery store in the San Francisco Bay Area.

They set up two individual displays:

  • a “limited choice” display featuring 6 different jams
  • an “extensive choice” display featuring 24 different jams

The two displays were rotated out hourly. Customers were invited to approach the displays and were able to sample the jams. They also received a $1 off coupon to use on any flavor of jam.

Regardless of which display the customer encountered, if they wanted to purchase a jam, they had to go pick it out from the jam aisle where they were able to see all the flavors of jams available.

Which Display Performed Better?

The Limited Choice display: researchers found that 30% of the customers who encountered the smaller, limited choice display with only 6 jams ended up making a jam purchase.

The Extensive Choice display: only 3% of customers who encountered this display went on to make a jam purchase. 

So in this particular instance, having fewer options was actually more motivating for customers. The display featuring less options performed far better than the one that offered more choices.

Other studies have came to similar conclusions, that more choice is not always better.

Have you encountered this when you go shopping?

You know those fast fashion brands like Forever 21 and Shein

They’re notorious for producing high volumes of clothing at a very rapid pace, which is absolutely horrible for the environment, by the way.

In an interview with Forbes, Shein’s Chief Marketing Officer said the brand drops 700-1000 new styles daily.

That’s a shizz ton of new styles.

Have you ever tried to shop at Shein? 

Although I try to avoid fast fashion at all costs, I needed a blazer a couple months ago and one of my friends said I should check Shein out, so I went to their website.

What did I find? LOTS. OF. OPTIONS.

Too many options, if I’m being totally honest with you.

I like online shopping as much as the next fashion-forward millennial, but I just needed a blazer, not 200 versions that nearly looked identical to one another.

Even though I spent probably a good half hour looking through options, in the end, I became too overwhelmed. I said “screw it” or some variation of that, and left the website and never ordered anything.

In an article authored by the same guy who penned the term “choice paralysis,” Barry Schwartz, he describes: “both psychology and business have operated on the assumption that…the more choices people have, the better off they are.”

In psychology, choice is tied to autonomy and control.

Additional choices don’t hurt anyone, right?

And they are bound to help at least one person out there.

In reality, though, while choice is indeed generally good for us, its relationship to our satisfaction is a little more complex than originally thought.

The More Choices We Have, The More Time & Effort It Takes Us To Sort Through Those Choices.

This can lead to anxiety, regret, and overly high expectations. We’re also prone to blame ourselves if we make a choice that doesn’t work out.

With few choices to pick from, this isn’t a big deal.

But when you’ve got 1000s of choices because Shein is dropping 700+ new items a day?

All of this can be extremely overwhelming and to avoid the pain, we kinda just avoid making decisions at all. We go somewhere else where the decisions aren’t so plenty and we aren’t so overwhelmed. We’ll even maybe spend more money on a blazer on another website because they made the process so much easier, and made our lives simpler as a result.

What does ‘choice paralysis’ mean for us solopreneurs & small business owners?

How does this affect our overall strategy?

Well, for one, it affects our offerings. You know, the product or the service of the THING that you offer people.

I don’t think I’ve ever worked with someone who only has ONE offering. Most people have several, or they at least have several variations of a single offering. That’s a good thing, but.

What we have to be careful of is not having TOO many things to offer our audience, because when we do that, we aren’t able to truly showcase our specialty or our expertise.

Have you ever been to one of those restaurants that does it all?

The one that has a menu that is like 10 pages, they do breakfast all day, they have 8 different soups that are probably originally frozen in a bag, every deep fried appetizer you could ever dream of, and a Mexican food section even though they’re located in the heart of the Midwest?

If you’ve been to enough of these restaurants, you start to notice that although the food may be “ok”, very rarely is the food exceptional. Very rarely do they have that one menu item that they are “known for”.

I’m also always a little hesitant of the quality of the ingredients and freshness of the food because if you offer soooooo many things, you have to have more inventory on hand to make everything…and a larger inventory is more prone to spoilage. Gross.

This type of restaurant, generally, isn’t the type that people are going to be ranting and raving about.

It’s the restaurant someone is gonna say something like, “Well, if you aren’t sure what you’re in the mood for, there’s always that place. They have a lot of food options and it’s usually ok quality.”

That’s not the type of reaction we want someone to have to YOUR brand.

If your brand was a restaurant, we want them to be saying something like, “Hey, let’s go to THAT place! They have the BEST maple-infused old fashioned, and their signature prime rib bowl is TO DIE FOR.”

We can get them talking like that by trimming the fat.

Review + Revise Your Offerings Regularly

We can cut down what we specialize in. We can give people FEWER options, but make sure that we do those options really, really well. When we cut down the noise, we can better focus. 

Whether you’re still developing your offerings or have been working with them for years – it’s ALWAYS a good idea to review these regularly.

Make them leaner, but meaner.

And review how you are presenting them to your audience, to potential clients, as well. 

Are your offerings CLEAR? How many options do you have? Are you overwhelming people? Do you properly highlight the differences between the options, or could people who are new-to-you be unsure how they differ from one another?

When I work one-on-one with clients in my website development work, I offer THREE packages: 1) just the website, 2) the website + branding design, and 3) the website, branding design, and strategy development.

I used to have FOUR, my fourth offering was just branding design…but people mainly know me for web design and strategy, not just branding, so I hardly had anyone ever go for that option…and my main passion is in websites. 

So what did I do? I trimmed the fat. I gave people less options. They still have autonomy to choose, but they aren’t overwhelmed. 

And because I cut one package out, I’m able to spend more time strengthening the others up and making those better.

It’s the same with payment plans.

When I present people with options, I give them 3 choices: break the payment down into 2, 3, or 6 equal monthly payments.

I used to say we can do 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 equal monthly payments because like, if we can do 3 equal monthly payments and 6 equal monthly payments, obviously we can just as easily do 4 or 5 monthly payments! But that’s just…. A lot. And it’s not really necessary. I never had someone pick 4 or 5, I think because they are kind of random numbers. So I cut those out.

Less options, less choice, but it just feels better and is more clear. And we’re all about that life.

Make Sure Your Website Doesn’t Present Too Many Choices

Getting a little more into the technical side of things here, we also want to make sure we are aware of choice paralysis so we can actively avoid it when we are putting together the different parts of a website.

The navigation menu — that is, the links that show up at the top of the page, usually right by the logo — is one of those areas where there oftentimes are too many options.

While it’s important to give the people visiting your website the proper directions to explore various parts of your website — the about page, the contact page, the blog — we don’t need to give them EVERY direction. 

If you linked to every page you had, you’d have so many links up there!

There’s no need to provide a link to the privacy policy, or an individual blog post, at the very top of each page, front and center.

Instead, you want to focus on linking to only the most important pages. Again, this is usually the about page, the contact page, the work with me page, that sort of thing.

I recommend trying to keep your main navigation menu to around 5 links. If you have a couple more than that, that’s ok, but no more than 8.

(The exception is if you own a website that has a lot of products. In that case, you can employ something called a “mega menu” which you see on a lot of retailer’s websites. It’s a more complex, expandable menu where choices are displayed in multiple columns. Sometimes, there are even images. In the case of online shops, mega menus can be super helpful. But for the rest of us, the simple, 5-8 link menu is recommended.)

You also want to be aware of how many options you are presenting people in a single pageview.

What NOT To Do:

I just visited a website recently and wow. This person has really great content, but the website is terrible and the main problem is: Too. Many. Choices.

I know it would be really helpful if you could see the website I’m talking about for yourself, but I would never call someone out publicly like that so let me just describe it to you!

On this website, when you visit the homepage, before you even have the opportunity to scroll down, you are presented with the following:

  • 4 links — in various forms, like a pop-up, banner, and just as part of the hero section, to the website owner’s course
  • 3 links to a product you could buy
  • 2 links to the “work with me” page
  • 2 links to the homepage (which we’re currently on, but there is no indication of that)
  • 3 links to other pages
  • 2 links to the website owner’s YouTube channel (this is a big no-no, because when you want to keep people ON your website, not route them off-site…especially to a social media website where visitors can easily discover your competitors) 

All together, that’s 16 options.

Too Many Calls To Action = No Action

5 of them are presented as big, call to action style buttons.

The problem? That’s far too many. Those calls to action are all competing with one another for our attention. While yes, having that many gives us — the viewer — options, it’s very unclear which one we should click. 

It’s scattered. It’s hectic. It’s chaos! 

And none of those are terms we use to describe an awesome website.

So remember: just like choices, there is such a thing as too many buttons.

I truly believe you can successfully present more than one call to action to your audience: but there’s a way to go about it that works. There’s a strategy to it and there’s also an art form.

Sometimes, Less Is More.

By limiting the options that we give people, not only do we keep them more motivated to make a decision AND limiting their confusion, we also give ourselves the opportunity to better focus on the choices we do offer people.

I said it already and I’ll say it again: if you were a restaurant, I do NOT want you to be the type of establishment that has a menu longer than War & Peace  and people talk about you like this: “Yeah, I guess we can go there tonight, they have everything and the food is edible, at least.”

I want you to be the restaurant that it’s an HONOR to visit. I want you to be the type of place that has got a freakin’ waitlist and EVERYONE is talking about that lovely little twist your cocktails have and how divine the dessert was and the service is amazing too.

I want you to want that for yourself, too, because you deserve it!

So narrow the focus and stop giving people too many choices!