“We love either 3 or 5 options”

If we are offered one option, our choice is to either go for it, or… not. However, if we are offered two choices, we automatically start choosing between these two options. Not choosing at all becomes a much less obvious option. Therefore offering more than one option is usually more persuasive.

On the other hand, if we are offered too many choices we tend not to make a choice. Too many choices are simply too difficult for our simple ratio.

That’s the paradox of choice.

Scientific research example:

Imagine that you’re in the business of selling pens, and you have 20 different pens in stock. Now a prospective customer enters your store. How many pens do you show him?

It turns out that showing about 10 pens is your best bet. Shah & Wolford (2007) found that showing fewer options, as well as more options will decrease your chances of selling. Buying behavior in their experiment was a curvilinear
function of number of choices, peaking at a value of 10 pens.

choice paradox

Online Persuasion tips:

  • Prevent providing only one Call-To-Action. Instead, add a link or another CTA to the choice set.
  • If you have only one product or service, try to create one or two variations of it (like a black or white iPhone).
  • With a multitude of comparable products, find the optimum number by testing. It is probably in the 3 – 20 range (in my own experience: the more complex and less comparable your products, the less options you should offer).
  • The same applies for the amount of USP’s.
  • And for the amount of links on a page.

Further reading on choice paradox: