January 16, 2014
Giving customers a choice seems like a natural for a small food business as you want to give them a selection of products and/or flavors to choose from. But in your effort to provide customers with everything they need, you might actually be limiting your sales and hurting your business.
Between today and tomorrow, we’re going to take a look at the two sides that are impacted by your desire to increase your product line. This ‘Paradox of Choice’ can work against you from the customer standpoint and that’s what we’ll dive into today. But by offering so much choice you are also putting additional pressure on your business and we’ll look at it from your standpoint tomorrow.
Imagine, if you will, that you are a customer at a farmers’ market and you just walked up to a new vendor who is selling cheese. You’re in the mood for cheese and are intrigued by what this vendor is offering. But before you on the table are 10, 20, or maybe even 30 different types of cheese. Some of them may be the same flavors but in different forms. What do you think you’re initial feeling is?
Studies have shown that in a scenario like this, the first feeling customers have is that of being overwhelmed. Before them on the table are hundreds of decisions that need to be made before they can walk away with one cheese. And each of those decisions runs the risk of being the wrong one – ‘what if I had picked the sharp cheddar? Should I have picked the sharp cheddar? Did I pick the wrong thing?’ Buyers’ remorse is real and when you give your customers so many options they may end up second-guessing themselves even after they’ve walked away.
But to take this brief look at psychology one step further – how many people out there like feeling overwhelmed? How many like to feel like they may have made the wrong decision? These feelings make people feel uncomfortable and that’s a feeling they will start to associate with your company and your products.
Psychologists say that if someone can’t make a confident decision in the first 7 seconds of walking up to your farmers’ market booth, into your store, or when seeing a bunch of products before them on the shelf, chances are that they will walk away without purchasing anything because the feelings of being uncomfortable start to manifest. This can be even worse when you’re at a place like a coffee shop, trying to decide what to order, and there’s people in line behind you. You feel the need to make a decision quickly but with so many options you mind goes blank and you blindly ask for something – anything – from the pastry shelf!
A company I consulted for last year was knowingly facing this problem when they called me in. During some preliminary research, we all watched customers come through the door, survey their food offerings, and then turn around without ordering anything because the selection was so vast that it was simply overwhelming. We actually saw an increase in sales by cutting down on the product offerings because we made the decision-making process less scary and less overwhelming.
I’ve also seen this with store buyers who are interested in bringing a new brand into their store. If they have numerous skus to choose from the buyer can be nervous about making the right decision. In fact, more often than not, the buyers will ask the food producers which are the best-selling skus and then just bring in those!
So remember, when you expand your product line it should be done strategically and in a way that complements your current product line and helps you capture additional sales. Don’t add products to your product line simply to have more products to offer because more can very well equal less.