In his great book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz details how people can be overwhelmed and dissatisfied by too many options. New research from Columbia University seems to indicate how you present options is just as important to people’s satisfaction with their decision. Both insights have broad applicability to inbound marketers and community managers.
Do you present options simultaneously or sequentially?
What the Columbia University study examined was customer satisfaction when products were presented either simultaneously or sequentially. What they found was that sequential (one-at-a-time) presentation of options increased people’s hope that the next option would be better than the previous one. Simultaneous (all-at-one-time) presentation conversely was shown to better reinforce the purchase decision, making it a better tactic.
This is probably something intuitive to our experience. Consider Amazon, Pinterest, even Twitter (to an extent). All of the information and choices are available in any screenshot. Then consider the unease with which people have recently written about Facebook’s Open Graph, which gives the appearance of arbitrary posts in a user’s news feed. Even with Facebook’s assurance that the most popular posts are being revealed, there is a sense that something is missing.
How is this relevant to the everyman (and everywoman)?
An example of sequential presentation are sites that try to game bounce rate by spreading content over multiple pages. You may have kind of known that readers hated that, and this indicates as much (although I suspect there are other reasons for this as well).
Another example would be sites with multiple target demographics. Trying to provide choices and content for soccer moms on the same landing page as choices for tweens oftentimes will provide too many choices, often irrelevant to one or more of the targeted groups. A separate landing page with fewer options might be more pleasing to users.
The big idea in these studies is that it’s not enough just to know your customer and make them buy (or take action), but also to make them feel positive about the experience afterward.
Giving people a reasonable number of easily accessible options appears to be one way to do it.
What do you think? Do you agree with these findings? Have you had success with sequential options? Is this applicable in any other facet of online marketing or community management?