If you're like most people, you think more choice is better. You believe that being able to choose from more things means that what you end up choosing will be superior.
Social science suggests that you're dead wrong. In fact, when it comes to the human brain, it turns out the fewer choices you have, the better.
Sheena Iyengar, psycho-economist (yes, that's a thing) and and professor at Columbia Business, calls it the Choice Overload Problem--and it has very specific implications when it comes to business.
She coined the term after conducting a rather choice experiment at Draeger's, an upscale supermarket. She loved shopping at Draeger's because of the dizzying array of products--it was fun to peruse their 17 different kinds of mineral water, or 45 varieties of pasta sauce.
But she noticed that while she enjoyed the experience, she rarely ever purchased anything. So she ran an experiment to test a theory about this. Her chosen medium? Jam.
At the entrance of the store, her team put out different sets of jams for people to try. Sometimes they put out six flavors; sometimes they put out 24. They were testing two things: one, when did more people stop to try some jam? Two, when did people actually purchase jam?
As it turned out, more choices drew more people--about 20 percent more. But guess who actually bought jam?
Of those who stopped when there were 24 choices, only 3 percent bought jam. When there were just six choices, 30 percent bought.
Stop and read that again: only 3 percent bought when there were a lot of choices; a full 30 percent bought when there were fewer choices. That's a 10x differential.
In other words, while you might have a great time gazing at endless varieties of tomato sauce, you're far less likely to actually buy one.
Based on this and other similar research, Iyengar has concrete advice for companies who want to increase profits, and it can be summed up in one word.
"Cut," she says in her TED talk on the subject. "You've heard it said before, but never has it been more true than today: less is more."
A few cases in point:
- When Proctor & Gamble cut their Head & Shoulders line from 26 different kinds to 15, sales went up by 10 percent
- When Golden Cat cut their 10 worst-performing cat litter products, their profits went up by 87 percent
- When Costco cut products across all categories, sales went up
This strategy is win/win. When you reduce the number of choices, you often streamline your backend. You don't have to fulfill as many different options. And you get far more sales on the items you do offer.
The average grocery store offers 45,000 products. But the ninth-biggest retailer in the world is Aldy's--and it offers only 1,400 products. That's a 97 percent reduction in choice.
Interestingly, this rule also applies to content. Content creators like bloggers who cut content see more site visits and more time on site. Millionaire entrepreneur Pat Flynn started cutting his own content after interviewing Todd Tresidder, a blogger who tripled his traffic by deleting a third of his content.
As we wrap up this year and head into the new one, a lot of people's New Year's resolutions will involve creating more. Goals will include, "generate more content." "Increase social media posts." "Write more blogs."
But the research suggests that the wiser choice is, in fact, the opposite: Cut. Take the bottom 10-30 percent of your posts (or videos, or poems, or Instagram photos, etc.) and delete them.
If you've got an Etsy store or other eCommerce business, take your worst-performing products and cut them.
See just how low you can go, then watch as your profits soar.