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The Power of Choice Architecture

The Power of Choice Architecture

Have you ever thought about how many different types of jam there are in your local supermarket?

A quick search for “jams & conserves” on the Sainsbury’s website returns 52 products to choose from. 

Choice, although empowering, can introduce complexity.

If there’s one thing that stops consumers in their tracks, it’s unnecessary complexity.

As e-commerce and digital marketing has grown, so too has the complexity of options presented to consumers online.

As marketers, we must accept our responsibility as choice architects and help to guide (or ‘nudge’) consumers in the right direction.

How to choose jam

What’s not to like about all of the choice available to us? The choice means that somewhere, amongst the 52 jars of jam I’ve found, there must be the perfect jam for me, all I need to do is choose it.

The only problem is, how on earth do you choose one jar of jam when there are 52 jars available?

I think it’s safe to say that when we want a jam, we don’t want an average, watery mess, quality is the main aim. Price is another consideration; we may want a jam so tasty it could force Mary Berry to retire, but we don’t want to risk the kid’s education on it.

Flavour is another choice and you can even choose based on dietary or “lifestyle” requirements (yes, that says “lifestyle” requirements).

The choice is quite literally overwhelming.

Before you know it, you’re standing in front of the jam aisle in the supermarket quivering like a blackberry that’s about to be reduced at high temperature.

The downside of choice

Choice, you see, sounds great when you think about it. But in practice, overwhelming choice can stop us choosing altogether.

In a series of studies called: “When Choice Is Demotivating” the following scenarios were setup in a small grocery shop.

Shoppers could sample any of six pots of jam, and then receive a money-off voucher for their favourite. In a second scenario, shoppers were offered the same opportunity, but this time with 24 jams to choose from.

The results were as follows:

  • 30% of people who sampled the small selection of jams went on to purchase.
  • Only 3% of people exposed to 24 varieties of jam did the same.

The power of choice architecture

Richard Thaler, co-author of Nudge says that “A choice architect has the responsibility for organising the context in which people make decisions”.

This means that when we build websites, we are offering our visitors choices, and this makes us all choice architects.

The great news is that the principles of choice architecture work: the UK government’s move from opt-in to opt-out pensions for the British workforce is the ideal example.

The ‘default effect’ is powerful. Once upon a time, when employees were expected to opt-into a pension savings scheme, the default position was not to be enrolled.

Making a small tweak (making pension enrolment automatic, allowing workers to opt-out if they wanted to), the rate of eligible employees who started paying into a pension scheme rose by 15% between 2012 and 2014 (gov.uk). 

Making use of the ‘default’ principle is just one way that choice architecture can transform the way your customers interact with your brand.

There is also the ‘mapping’ principle; concerned with helping the customer understand the experience they will have with different choices. The ‘incentives’ principles states the need to remove obstacles in the way of customers making the right choice.

Providing ‘feedback’ is another principle; consumers cannot make the right choice without knowing what they are doing wrong at the moment.

Your approach to choice architecture should also ‘expect error’, customers will go wrong from time to time and any good piece of choice architecture should respond accordingly.

Finally, a good choice architect will provide ‘structure around complex ideas’. Choice (as we know) can be complex – by organising the options you can limit the complexity and discomfort your customer experiences.

As choice increases, now is the time to embrace choice architecture, and fulfill our roles as marketers and choice architects in shaping the decisions that our customers make.

Join White.net’s head of organic search Paul Wood at Performance Marketing Insights: London next month where he'll be arguing the case for why it’s sometimes best not to be the best, focussing on how choice architecture influences UX, SEO, content strategy and those all-important conversions... 

Read up on his session and the full PMI agenda here. 

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Got a question or comment – tweet Paul @paulwould or comment on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIN.

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Paul Wood

Paul Wood

Paul is a Head of Organic Search at White.net, co-founder of supplementstandards.net and a lecturer in online journalism at the University of Winchester. He began his career in digital by launching and running a news website before managing an e-commerce website and working for a number of digital marketing agencies, from Guernsey to Oxford!

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