The presence of choice might be appealing as a theory but in reality people actually find choice to be rather tiresome. I know; this seems to go against our notions of what we want. Freedom is, after all, choice, or so we are told.
Democracy and capitalism, in theory at least, are based upon principles of choice. We probably prefer to think of ourselves as embracing choice, carefully gathering information and making informed decisions, but in reality choice, on some level, can actually be debilitating.
There is a famous jam study (famous, at least, among those afflicted with a peculiar fascination with research), that is often used to support this idea. Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business at Columbia University and the author of “The Art of Choosing,”conducted the study back in 1995.
Way back then Google had not been invented, Ritchey Edwards had gone missing, we had just started watching movies on DVD and OJ Simpson was found innocent and Mariah Carey released Fantasy, but Professor Iyengar was busy proving her theories in a gourmet market in California. Together with her research assistants they set up a booth of samples of jams. Every few hours, they switched from offering a selection of 24 jams to a group of six jams.
Unsurprisingly sixty percent of customers were drawn to the large assortment, while only 40 percent stopped by the small one. But here’s the surprising part. 30 percent of the people who had sampled from the small assortment decided to buy jam, while only 3 percent of those confronted with the two dozen jams purchased a jar.
So while the larger display brought in more people, the smaller display brought in less people, but sold 600% more jam.
Over the years, versions of the jam study have been conducted using all sorts of subjects, like chocolate and speed dating (yes, too much choice can inhibit your buying choices here too). All of them seem to confirm that by reducing the number of options that a user has to consider, you can increase conversions.
This is pretty incredible information. Think about it – giving people too many options or asking them for too much information may actually reduce online donations.
It made me think about the fundraising pages on charity websites. It is not uncommon for fundraising pages to be loaded up with various fundraising opportunities, with filtered lists of running events, triathlons, bikes rides and bake sales. The idea I suppose is to make it easy for supporters to find an event or activity they want to take part in, but it appears that this approach may actually make it much harder for nonprofits to recruit people. Instead we should actually reduce the number of options available.