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Earlier this month I wrote about the consequences of choice overload on retail sales, and proposed two ways retail businesses can solve the problem.

The article received a lot of positive feedback, and ensuing conversations with some business owners motivated me to write a follow-up article about specific ways you can increase sales revenue through guided selling.

But first, let’s get everyone on the same page…

What is choice overload, and how does it affect your business?

A gentle introduction to choice overload

The notion of choice overload is not new. Psychologists have been discussing it since the 1950s. But it wasn’t until 2004, when Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor at Swarthmore College, published The Paradox of Choice, that the idea entered the mainstream consciousness.

In essence, choice overload (also called overchoice) refers to a cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. It becomes more difficult and stressful to determine which option is the best one for you
  2. As humans, we inherently feel sorrow about the opportunities that we forego
  3. Moreover, when it’s not clear which option is best for you, you’re more likely to regret the decision that you eventually do make

The idea is that, by reducing consumer choices you can create a betterlived experience for shoppers.

How many choices are ideal?

That varies depending on the nature of the product, but one major study conducted by researchers at Columbia University and Stanford University suggests that the optimal number is closer to 6 as opposed to 24 or 30 choices.

What should you do with this information?

In our previous article on choice overload, I suggested two solutions to the paradox of choice:

  1. Reducing your product range
  2. Practicing consultative selling and guiding shoppers through a “decision funnel”

Reducing your product range

The challenge for retail businesses is that reducing your product range is not always practical.

Now to be fair, I do think that a lot of businesses can get to the sweet-spot of choice rather easily:

If you’re a men’s clothier, you might offer five different dress shirts, four different casual button-downs, chinos in three different colours, four different pullovers, two rugby shirts, one blazer, three sports coats, and so forth. Yes, that adds up to over 20 different options. But it isn’t as though shoppers will struggle to choose between a pair of slacks or a pullover. Either you’re looking for pants, or you’re looking for a sweater.

The paradox of choice really becomes an issue when all your products are seemingly similar to each other.

For example, if you’re selling printers, even having as little as four printers in each price segment can make it very difficult for shoppers who know very little about printers to make a decision. Other businesses who sell features-heavy products (RVs, flooring, computers, bedding, etc) face the same challenges.

That’s where consultative selling and the “decision funnel” comes into play.

Consultative/guided selling

In our previous article on choice overload, I talked about the benefits of guiding shoppers through a sequenced decision funnel. Here’s a GIF to illustrate the idea:

Later, I learned that this is simply called “guided selling,” which is a much more graceful way to phrase it.

Seven scalable ways e-commerce stores can implement guided selling

It’s simple to implement guided selling into your business if you’re a brick-and-mortar store: you just train your salespeople to be more consultative. The problem for e-commerce stores is that there are no salespeople who can help!

But that doesn’t mean you can’t guide your shoppers into making the right purchase decisions.

Below are eight scalable ways you can guide purchase decisions and increase sales as an e-commerce business (with real-world examples):

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