I hate choices as much as the next person. Trying to choose the best brand of 1% milk at the grocery store can seem impossibly painful – and deciding on a restaurant for date night? Forget it.

But, although most of us may resent it, our lives are comprised of choices. There are big choices, like where to go to college or which house to purchase, down to the smaller choices that make up our everyday lives: what shirt to wear, what shoes to buy, having oatmeal or eggs for breakfast.

Sometimes these smaller choices can be overwhelming, especially for today’s consumer. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements and products at every turn, to the point where many consumers choose not to choose.

How analysis paralysis affects sales

This phenomenon is referred to as “analysis paralysis”, or a state of overthinking a situation so that an action is never taken – hence the paralysis. If there are too many choices for a consumer to decide between, or not enough product details to distinguish the products, a consumer can become so overly analytical that they will avoid making a decision all together.

Professor Sheena Iyengar, who acts as the Professor of Business in the Management Division at Columbia Business School, conducted a famous study on “The Art of Choice” and held a keynote about it at the Guided Selling Live! conference.

With her team, Professor Iyengar set up a stand inside of a high-end grocery store called Draeger’s Market, a store known for its wide selection of products. The stand offered free samples of jam and coupons to purchase the jam, with one twist: on some days, the stand offered six types of jam, while on other days the stand offered 24 types of jam.

Ultimately, more customers stopped at the stand with 24 types of jam, about 60%, while only 40% of customers stopped at the booth offering six types of jam.

However, when it came to buying a jar of jam, the results were quite different. On days when the 24 jams were offered, only 3% of people actually purchased the jam, whereas 30% of consumers purchased jam when there were only six options. That makes consumers 6 times more likely to purchase jam when their choices were more limited.

Sheena Iyengar at GSL2015

Prof. Sheena Iyengar, Columbia Business School – Guided Selling Live! 2015 Presentation

Professor Iyengar’s results continue to be the most prevalent evidence of analysis paralysis negatively affecting sales to date.

So while you may be proud of the 53 different types of tea you offer in your coffee shop, it turns out that less really is more. Consumers not only become confused by all the choices they are offered, but they have an innate fear that they will choose wrong.

Who can’t relate to that?

Buying my first car ranks as one of the top ten most stressful decisions of my life, mostly because I was terrified of choosing the wrong car. I was mortified by the idea of choosing a car that cost hundreds of dollars a month to maintain and had terrible gas mileage, when really my perfect car had been the Jeep two rows over.

4 ways to combat analysis paralysis

Making the wrong choice is a scary thought.

Even worse, because of their choice overload, studies have shown that consumers who do make a decision are more likely to choose poorly and regret their purchase later on.

So what’s to be done? Your consumers are staring at your 53 tea options and feeling confused, annoyed, frustrated, and nervous to choose incorrectly.

Luckily, there are ways to combat analysis paralysis.

1. Get rid of extraneous options

Do you need 17 different kinds of pomegranate mango tea? Limiting your excess options will reduce consumer choice overload, encouraging sales and increasing your profits. On top of that, you lower your cost of goods by only stocking 5 different kinds of pomegranate mango tea instead of 17.

2. Concretization

Imagine that your 17 boxes of tea just say “Pomegranate Mango Tea” on the box…how would any of your customers know that one kind of tea has antioxidants or that another is Free Trade Certified?

Showing the benefits or details of each product helps to distinguish them from each other and assists your consumer in making an educated decision.

3. Categorize your products

Categorizing your products into groups that mean something to the consumer can help your customers understand their options and make the most informed choice possible. For example, if your tea is grouped into “Black Pomegranate Mango Tea” and “Green Pomegranate Mango Tea”, then green tea-lovers won’t be sorely disappointed by their misinformed decision to buy black tea.

4. Guiding prospective buyers

The most accurate and thorough way to understand your customer and assist them in making the right purchase, however, is through Guided Selling methods. Guided Selling is a process that helps potential buyers make the best possible purchase to satisfy their needs.

Sophisticated Guided Selling Solutions perform as well as your most experienced and efficient sales rep. They assists you in four basic steps:

a. Understanding the customer’s needs

This is getting down to the nitty-gritty; Guided Selling interactive product advisors ask the need-to-know questions that really get down to what your customers are looking for, without making them feel interrogated.

The potential customer is asked need-oriented questions to suss out their current needs and expectations.

b. Analyzing the customer’s needs

So the shopper expresses that his floor is dirty and (surprise) it is revealed that the consumer needs a vacuum cleaner. The consumer may have already known he needed a vacuum cleaner, but what he doesn’t know is the technical end of his product need.

Guided Selling solutions are able to take the expressed desires and translate them into technical product specifics based on the issue the consumer has described – as it turns out, not only does your potential buyer need a vacuum cleaner, but he requires a vacuum with rug, hardwood and tile floor capabilities.

Who knew?

c. Recommending appropriate products

Once the system has identified the consumer’s need and translated them into product features, it will analyze your assortment and recommend the most suitable product or service to the user.

To continue with our vacuum example, the Guided Selling solution would bring up a list of triple-function vacuum cleaners and automatically eliminate vacuums that could clean only carpet or only tile.

Product attributes (i.e.; cordless, long battery life) are also matched against all user expectations. If for some reason some requirements cannot be filled, it will find and display the closest alternatives.

d. Providing buying arguments to the customer

Now that the potential buyer has found the perfect product to solve their identified need, a helpful Guided Selling solution will provide all the logical proof that has been accumulated to convince this prospective buyer to make the purchase.

Here is where Guided Selling Solutions have a true leg up on a traditional salesperson (or mere product filters). Everyone knows the stigma of the greasy car salesman; chasing you around the lot trying to get you to buy the car that will get him the best commission. We feel a bias, an inherent cynicism, to distrust salespeople.

But a reasoning engine that seemingly has no hidden intentions is much easier for a potential consumer to trust. Guided Selling Solutions can act as an unbiased third party, laying out all the logic and facts as well as all the advantages and disadvantages of each product. It can obtain the buyers trust easily, turning them from a prospect to a satisfied customer.

Choices can be hard, but they don’t have to be for your customer

Take the time to review your products: are some of them redundant? Do you have any distinguishing details to set your products apart? You could be inadvertently overwhelming or confusing your customer.

Avoid this debilitating confusion by limiting unnecessary products, giving more specific details to differentiate products, or categorizing your products into meaningful groups for your buyers.

And integrate Guided Selling solutions that  help you determine your shopper’s needs, translate them into technical product features, identify the best product match, and recommend these products to reduce analysis paralysis and choice overload.

You have been officially armed with the knowledge to effectively combat analysis paralysis. Now go help your consumers and watch your profits rise.