Customers ask for more choice than they want

photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/lamentables/

More Choice == Good, Right?

It seems logical: people who buy stuff want choice (lots and lots of it.) We’ve built buying models, stores, and services that ensure that customers can buy whatever they want, whenever they want, and (almost) whereever they want. But giving someone a near-infinite number of choices doesn’t always help to buy faster or to be more confident – it often stops the buying process in its tracks.

Too much choice overloads a buyer (or browser) – see the classic Jam Experiment – and prevents them from getting to your ultimate goal. You want customers to buy your product or service, become a happily served customer who understands why that product or service is important to them, and agrees with the job that they hired you for. That job is to provide that product or service at what they perceive to be the “right” price.

A simple idea with broad implications

Here’s one solution to try: remove choice from buyers whenever possible. This sounds a bit draconian, but think of it in light of Clay Shirky’s advice to avoid filter failure. Shirky advises us to get better filters and not worry about having too much information. The best designed products and services do exactly that: either limit what they can do, and let you know it up front; or hide their complexity to be revealed in context for the buyer (or customer) who wants and needs that extra information. This is a user experience version of the concept of information hiding, abstracting the unnecessary details until they are needed.

What does limited choice enable?

Limiting choice results in mass market products because if you do it right you’ve achieved 80% of the functionality or benefit of the big idea, using only 20% of the complexity. Limited (and smart) choices result in a natural monopoly at scale, and improve sales or the speed of the sales cycle. Think of iPhone, Southwest Airlines, and Uber – these are all businesses that provide a well designed product or service, do what they do really well – and don’t try to serve the whole market.

Limiting choice also creates dissatisfaction for some people – they want it all, and would prefer no limitations. Android, Private Charter Service, and Private Car Sharing are great examples of these options, and I don’t want to imply that they are not good options – just that the addition of choice also often adds complexity and cost. Adding choice in these situations forces the user to make more decisions, often resulting in a slower sales cycle or an increased likelihood that the end user experience will be variable 😉

When you should you embrace as much choice as possible?

If you’re not trying to create a natural monopoly or want to create a service that offers as much choice as possible, a business that promotes “long tail” options – or those that individually do not offer enough profit to survive but when aggregated offer excellent potential – is a strong option. If the ideas are hard to bundle (think different kinds of books or music), might be handmade or limited production (like in Etsy), then providing a marketplace with as much choice as possible will help.

Adding choice can create chaos and a longer buying cycle. For the right business it will also unlock different buyers than the mass-market opportunity. So what about the compelling idea that more choice results in better informed buyers? Buyers who want this information will ask for it – provide this to them in context and try to avoid overloading people who don’t ask – until they need it.

What’s the desired outcome of the right amount of choice?

Matching available choice with the type of business you’re running is important. Too much choice and too little interest on behalf of buyers to determine why they should choose one option over another will just drive buyers away. Too little choice and not enough obvious utility (usually, 9x as much) will discourage existing users of other products and services from switching to your point of view.

The right amount of choice will bring:

  • faster buying cycles
  • more well-informed customers (when they want to be informed) who get what they want when they need it
  • happier buyers and happier sellers

It’s Harder to make UX Content than You Think

(courtesy of brartist)

Recently (this evening, in fact) I found myself in front of the computer, script in hand, ready to compose an award-winning piece of user content.  Unfortunately, when I looked at my first (and second draft) of the masterpiece, I found that my rosy reflection had become a harsh reality.  It’s harder to make UX content than you think.  What seems to be an easy script reveals itself when you speak the lines out loud, and then when you watch the instructional content from the perspective of a user, you realize the things you’ve forgotten.

Here are a few suggestions for making your user content more effective.  First, write the script and edit it. You may think that you can write the script once and forget it, but a “measure twice, cut once” mentality never hurts.  When you are reading your script after the first draft, think about the key points you are going to make at each point in the instructional content, and mark them in the script so that you have a visual cue to sell the idea at the point when you need to make it.

The second thing you need to do is to storyboard your visuals.  Many instructional designers I’ve worked with (and I fall prey to the same malady) believe that they can improvise on the fly and get both the visual and the meaning behind that visual across to the viewer.  This is a really tough sell, and it’s a lot easier to create a highlight around an idea if you know where the visual highlight might be at the same time (and to not have both of them compete.

The third thing you need to for great UX Content is to record your screencast a few times.  Walk through it the first time while recording, and don’t worry about the mistakes.  After reviewing the rough draft, try it again while attempting to emphasize the points at which you earlier marked for emphasis.  And then try a third (or fourth) time for polish.

When you’re done writing, editing, storyboarding, and practicing, you need to do some post-production work to make your UX content sing.  For most pieces, using TechSmith’s Camtasia is perfectly adequate (and dead easy).  Camtasia allows you to edit out some rough patches in your audio or video, to add a few effects, and to get the whole thing done and export in less time than a fancy solution might take you.  Even though it’s harder to make UX content than you think, you shouldn’t get hung up on making the perfect content.  The underlying software or service will change soon anyway, and then it will be time for you to get more practice as an instructional technology professional.

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