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Too many options can make or break your business success

Have you ever found yourself perusing a long menu in a restaurant, with a plethora of fabulous choices and found yourself incapable of making a choice for your meal? In fact, after looking at all these fabulous choices you’re not even hungry anymore.  It’s not you, it’s them!


The body of research on persuasion talks a lot about the need to carefully balance the number of choices or options you offer your prospect or stakeholder.  One choice seems like a demand with no freedom to make an actual decision, two choices still feels pushy, and too many choices puts us into overload and renders us incapable of making a choice at all for the fear of getting it wrong.


There’s some famous research from Sheena Iyengar in 2004 who researched company-sponsored retirement programmes for nearly 800,000 workers. They looked at the impact of choice or options on participation rates and yes, they found that the more choices that were offered, the less likely people were to enrol in the programme. When only two funds were offered, the rate of participation was around 75% and interestingly, when 59 funds were offered the rate dropped to around 60%. 15% is significant when you’re dealing with 800,000 people!


The same researchers did a similar experiment with jam flavours. When they displayed 6 flavours at a tasting stall in a fancy supermarket, 30% of passers-by tasted the jam. When they displayed all 24 flavours only 3% of passers-by tasted the jam.


The point is that when there are too many choices available the decision-making process involves the dimension of a higher risk, too many chances to get it ‘wrong’. When we go into overwhelm our mind shuts down and we simply can’t make any decision


Sometimes lots of options works!


If you’re going to make the choice to offer lots of options either because you want the publicity that comes with offering wild and crazy options, or perhaps you want to offer every possibility so that everyone can always find something they want with you and they never have to visit your competitor, you need to give out lots of free samples or offer a rigorous try-before-you-buy scheme in order to reduce the inherent risk in getting the choice wrong.


This was proven by the ice-cream wonderland known as La Casa Gelato in Vancouver,


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© Michelle Bowden 2022.  Michelle Bowden is an authority on presentation & persuasion in business. Michelle is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), best-selling internationally published author (Wiley), and a regular commentator in print, radio and online media.

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