How much choice is enough?

In order to solve the conundrum of ‘what to offer customers’ those with a small business often provide a range of choices, the idea being that one of those options will be right for each individual customer.

But that does leave a couple of interesting questions, how much choice is enough? And when is too many choices too much?

To answer those questions we need to first consider whether choice is even important for a small business in the first place.

So let’s look at what ‘choice’ actually means …because not everything is at it seems!

There are four views to think about…

1 – The Robot: This is where you offer no choice whatsoever and are essentially saying to your customer, “Take it or leave it!” – In other words, it’s either a yes or a no. There’s no middle ground, no grey areas, either the sale is on or it’s off.

So you have to ask yourself, do your customers act like robots? (we’ll come back to this a little later)

2 – The Dilemma: You present your customer with two choices, it’s either X or Y. But here’s the thing… An X or Y decision is the true definition of a dilemma, you can either go for the red pill or the blue pill – but which is right?

For the small business owner the important thing to remember is that when you present your customer with an “X or Y” decision it is not real choice, it is merely an illusion of choice, it is a dilemma. And, as is typical of such situations, it is likely the would-be customer will view this dilemma in a negative light.

(Put it this way… Have you ever heard someone talk about how they “love dilemmas”!? …nope, ordinarily most people view them as a negative experience.)

3 – Real Choice: This is where you present your customer with three options or more. You can have the blue, the green or the red. Given the previous two definitions you can see that you only get real choice when you reach three options.

But what if the choices keep stacking up? Well, that’s when we get to our final consideration…

4 – Overload: There will be a point where a multitude of choices is too much. The simplest example of this is the instantaneous paralysis of diners who have just been presented with a menu of a hundred different dishes …You know what I mean, I’m sure!

So once again we find ourselves back at that earlier question of, when is too many too much?

But first…

As you can see from these four different perspectives I obviously have a leaning toward choice being important, and here’s why…

FACT: Many people cannot make decisions unless they have real choice

At the risk of playing on stereotypes, let’s consider the differences between how men and women buy clothes…

(yes, I know, a very risky topic indeed! But bear with me, I will tread carefully!)

So the man wishes to buy a shirt. Studies show the typical man finds the first decent example of the type of shirt he wants to buy …and buys it.

Now let’s consider what studies have shown for how a woman would buy, say, a blouse…

The woman will enter a clothes shop, perhaps see the perfect blouse …but then keep shopping.

The woman will then proceed to visit other shops, considering even more options, more possible blouses. After a certain number of possible blouses have been found, she will then choose which is the right one and finally buy it.

However, and rather intriguingly, some of those women will return to the very first blouse and buy that one…

Which begs the question, why didn’t they buy it the first time they saw it?

Many a man is mystified by this behaviour “Surely they could have saved themselves all that walking and ‘hassle’ and just bought the #&*%£$#% first blouse!?”

Well… What these men fail to realize is that, in this type of scenario, such a woman could not make the decision UNLESS she had choice.

Obviously, this is just a ‘clothes’ example playing around with stereotypes – But it is intriguing to consider how this fun example still demonstrates an important point for small business owners for how people make decisions …and it has nothing to do with whether they are male or female.

What I’m saying is this…

Choice is often an important factor in customers’ buying strategies

This is something I talk about in great detail in my sales and persuasion training (like Unfair Advantage System and Mind, Body and Sold) – because, as you can imagine, understanding a customer’s buying strategy unlocks the door to an avalanche of sales.

So what do I mean by ‘strategies’?

Well… In simple terms, the human mind likes to make life easy by having predetermined strategies for doing things. Often people are not even aware these strategies exist, but nonetheless your hunk of grey matter (aka the brain) uses strategies CONTINUALLY in order to move through life.

One of the most important sets of strategies are those linked to decision making …and for the small business owner, it’s those linked to buying which hold the most value.

As you can imagine, there are many elements to a buying strategy – and often customers will have their own unique strategy. Fortunately, despite the lovely diversity that exists in people, there are some common factors and one of those is choice.


Some people have a psychologically NEED for a very specific number of options before they can make a choice.

But, like I said, that is only SOME people…

There are others who do not want any choice at all and actually get turned off when there is too much.

So going back to our four considerations of earlier… In any small business, some buyers need “real choice” whereas others are happy to be robots and will become overloaded if presented with too much.

Which brings us back to square one…

So when is too many too much?

Well, if you working with a customer in a one-on-one sales situation, then just make sure you find out what is right for that particular person and act accordingly…

(You might be wondering, “Ermmm, how will I know what is the right number of choices?” – well, here’s a hint: They will have made decisions before!)

But not all business is one-on-one, which means as a small business owner you need to have a ‘rule of thumb’ which allows you to work with the majority of your marketplace – and fortunately studies suggest one exists already…

Your brain loves the number three

As you will have no doubt noticed, there are many things in life which are grouped in threes, e.g. “on the count of 3”, “A, B or C?”, “1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place”, “Bronze, Silver and Gold” …and the list of examples goes on.

Three just seems to be a ‘comfortable’ number for the human brain.

So it will come as no surprise to you that studies have shown the majority of people who need choice often like to have specifically three options.

But what about the robots who just want yes/no situations?

Well, studies suggest the robots can live with three choices – maybe because it is such an agreeable number.

However, this is your small business we’re talking about and we can’t just be cutting corners and hoping for the best …because if three is the ‘rule of thumb’ there must be an ‘exception to the rule’!

And that is why…

Every small business must test what is right for their marketplace

I’ll save the details on how a small business can run an effective market test for another blog post, but for now consider this…

Don’t assume to know what is right or wrong for your customers …because you will more than likely be wrong!

People are different and will have different buying strategies. Some will think and act in one way, some in another. Groups may even exist where the individuals within that group will often decide in a similar fashion. Some of those examples will contradict what may be expected or considered the norm. Some will adhere perfectly to expectation.

The key is for you to find out what works for your market and you can only do that by testing and comparing different approaches …or more specifically, discover the right number of choices.

In general, choice *is* important to the majority of buyers …but still, this is a generalization. So you need to know what is true for your marketplace, for your small business, because there may be a catch and only testing will give you the right answer.

(In a future blog post I will introduce you to an idea I call “The Tradition” and how that can completely blow such generalizations …or intriguingly create a completely new set of generalizations for a group or marketplace.)

But for now, comment below and tell me what you think about choice and your small business…