More options, more confusion – the paradox of choice. Psychology meets email marketing. Part 5

More options, more confusion - the paradox of choice

You probably know the feeling of being overwhelmed by too many choices, for example at the ice-cream parlor. Do you rather want salted caramel, creme brulee, marshmallow or chili chocolate? The more options we have, the more difficult it gets to settle on one. And although a vast selection can be appealing in onlineshops, too, it can also be the cause of declining sales!

The “marmelade-experiment”, executed by the researchers Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper, shows that phenomenon in a striking manner. In an A/B test, two different selections of marmelade were offered; 6 different kinds of jam in one test, and 24 sorts in the other. While the smaller selection lured 40% of all customers to the shop, the bigger one attracted 60%. Yet, the smaller marmelade selection made 12% of the customers buy a jam, while the bigger selection only made 2% of the customers decide on a sandwich spread.

When repeated with other goods and services, the experiment always leads to similar results. Psychologist and author Barry Schwartz calls this phenomenon the paradox of choice. Having many choices seems attractive at first, but can be ultimately paralyzing. The cause of this indecisiveness is the fear of making the wrong decision, which grows the more options are available. At some point, customers cannot select the best offer anymore, so that they rather decide to buy nothing at all. Too many choices can kill your revenue!

So what does this mean for your email marketing? Make it easy for your customers to choose from your products and don’t overburden them with too many options:

Less is more

Limit the choices you offer your customers. When sending a newsletter, you want to show a maximum of 6 different products. Or better yet, only promote the campaign itself, for example your summer sale. Your promotional mail shows the key visuals of your different categories (women, men, children, or dresses, shoes, bags …), linking to each of the landing pages. Here, your customers can filter your products according to their individual needs. Your mail channeled the purchase impulse.

More is more

If you want to show more variety in your newsletters, make sure that you do not cross the line between “fascinating” and “overwhelming”. Concentrate on these four key factors when composing your newsletter: Categorize, Focus, Prioritize, Personalize. Here’s how to lead your customers with these facotrs to their next purchase in your online store:


Each product category offers criteria that help customers decide on the right product. For example, jeans can be divided into subcategories like “super skinny”, “loose fit” and “boot cut”. And remember the marmelade-experiment? The big selection could also be divided into smaller categories like “exotic”, “organic”, “regional” and so on.


Highlight one to three promotions. Mark your specials with disturbers or display them in an attention-grabbing way. For example, your jeans from above can be adverised with a banner for the “60% Super Sale”. Alternatively, new arrivals can also be advertized in a special mailing.


Add weight to your offer with the help of reviews: Display your most popular products more prominently! 70% of all customers involve the ratings and reviews of other customers in their decision making process. Rating systems and reviews and a prominent “bestseller” disturber for those popular products of yours will help new customers with their choice.


Do you maintain a good customer database, on which the purchases and preferences of your customers are noted? Wonderful! Now you can draw the attention of recipients to their favourite products. For example, customers who regularly buy strawberry marmelade might be interested in another flavor like strawberry-basil. And women who always choose a slim fit jeans will probably stay true to this cut in the future.

Personalization facilitates the decision-making process; it works like a salesperson who knows your customers best. The selection is immediately limited to favorites only. This is how an intention becomes an (purchase) action!

Whether you personalize, prioritize, focus or categorize your offerings, each of these key factors is a win for you and your customers.

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