The Choice Overload Effect: Why simplicity is the key to perfecting your experience

Jen Clinehens
Choice Hacking
Published in
6 min readMay 15, 2019


Image via Khai Sze Ong on Unsplash

The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

— William James

Have you ever experienced analysis paralysis? It’s that feeling of anxiety when you have so much information that any action feels like the wrong one, so you don’t do anything at all.

As marketers, we often assume that giving people more information is better. But to customers, more options can be paralyzing.

Too many choices will overwhelm, but just enough will drive sales

In a famous study conducted at Columbia University, a research team set up a booth of jam samples. Every few hours they would switch from a selection of 24 jams to a group of six jams.

When there were 24 jams, 60% of customers would stop to get a sample, and 3% of these customers would buy a jar. When there were six jams on display, only 40% stopped. But here’s the interesting part — 30% of these people bought jam.

Lots of options attracted customers to browse, but fewer choices got them to buy.

Image via Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

Are you losing sales by giving customers too much choice?

The negative effects of choice can be more severe than a missed sale. Research shows that when there are too many options, customers feel anxious, will disengage, and can even become depressed.

The adverse effects of too much choice is down to a behavioral science principle known as Choice Overload. It’s the idea that while some choice can be good, too much choice will overwhelm customers.

A brand’s good intentions — giving customers lots of options — can backfire and become a barrier to sales.

According to recent research from Episerver, 46% of customers have failed to complete a purchase online due to overwhelming choices.

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Jen Clinehens
Choice Hacking // Brands win when they know what makes buyers tick (behavioral science, psychology, AI)