3 Ways to Use Choice Architecture in Online Retail

When you’re designing an ecommerce website, there are many things you need to keep in mind. Every page and every decision influences your customer’s experiences, journeys, and ultimately, their purchasing decisions in some way. Even the way you offer choices to your customers can impact their decisions. This is a phenomenon affecting all businesses—and you can use it to your advantage with effective choice architecture.

Choice architecture is a term that basically means designing how choices are presented to consumers in order to increase the chances they’ll make the choice you want them to make.

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When you’re offering your customers a choice between two items, you can guide them to choose the option you want them to buy. You can also influence choices such as signing up for a newsletter or opening an account, or even the choice to buy a product at all.

This is an aspect of designing your online store that cannot be overlooked—poor choice architecture in online retail can actually drive your customers away!

Consider implementing these choice architecture examples on your website to drive more sales:

1. Anchoring

Anchoring is a choice architecture technique whereby you give your customers a frame of reference and guide their purchasing decision. Anchoring relies on the notions that:

  1. People tend to be indecisive;
  2. Price plays a large role in a purchasing decision;
  3. And comparing prices allows a customer to deem whether a certain price is too high or too low, and ultimately come to a decision.

There are a few ways to use anchoring in order to nudge customers toward the choice you want them to make. The first is simple: by providing more and less expensive options around the one that you would like the customers to choose and highlighting it, the way Spectoos does on their pricing page:

Simply offering customers other options creates a frame of reference for the price of a subscription. Seeing a $50 option will make some customers think $10 is quite a deal, and they’ll choose the $10 option instead of the $5 they might have otherwise chosen.

Another way to use anchoring is through the “add-on” items you offer. By anchoring in the add-on items you offer, you can get your customers to choose a more expensive option than what they may have chosen otherwise. For example, let’s say you sell electronics and a customer is purchasing a digital camera. During their purchase process, you offer a number of add-on items. Here’s what BestBuy.com offers to “complete” the purchase of a mirrorless camera:

Note the $45 memory card. In comparison to a $1,000 camera, $45 seems negligible – so customers will often times opt to add this memory card right away. In this scenario, the anchor is the price of the camera. If a person were to do a unique search on BestBuy.com for a 64GB SDCX memory card, they’d find much cheaper options:

2. Social Herding

Social herding is another way of saying “peer pressure.” Basically, this tactic taps into the idea that people generally prefer to group themselves with others who are similar to them. This is why adding a “Best Seller” tag on an item is a tactic that works so well. When you tell people about a bestselling product or how many others have signed up for a particular service, you’re telling them about a group of people (which could include them) who are happy with the product or service. This prompts your customers to also purchase or sign up so that they, too, can be part of that group.

Here’s an example: A search for “men’s swim shorts” on Speedo.com yields a number of options with similar price points. To help customers choose, Speedo highlights those options that are Best Sellers:

Even if the best selling swim short is above a customer’s original desired price point, the fact that it’s a best seller might steer them toward purchasing it anyway.

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3. Tyranny of Choice

While people believe that they cherish their “freedom of choice”, being presented with too many choices can lead them to not buying anything at all!  Avoid making your prospects feel this way by offering limited options. Think of how most online stores offering clothing will offer first a choice of style, then color, then size.

For example, when you shop at RalphLauren.com and click on the “Women” category, you don’t automatically reach a page that features specific items Ralph Lauren sells. Instead, you reach a page where you’re asked to further limit your search by choosing a category like “sweaters” or “jeans”:

Of course, the full range of products is still available. But by guiding shoppers through a limited number of choices, the online retailer makes the process of choosing seem more manageable.

So, how can you design choice architecture on your website? There are a number of ways, including:

Use default options.

Defaults are options that have been automatically selected for your customer. You can use default options on your pricing page, on your shipping page and in other areas where customers must select from a variety of choices.

For example, let’s say you offer different shipping options like:

  1. Standard (free)
  2. Next day (with a cost)
  3. Next day, free with membership registration

You can make sure that the 3rd option is automatically selected.

You might use defaults based on what the specific customer has chosen in the past, on what most of your customers typically choose, or on the option you most want the customer to select. In this way, a default option can be another tool to help steer your customer in the direction you’d like them to take, especially since customers also tend to compare other options against the default.

Be careful, though—if you constantly have the default option as the most expensive one, your customers may get annoyed with changing them to their preferred option and abandon their purchase altogether. Instead, try highlighting options you know your customers will like.

Going back to the example, above, choosing the 3rd option to highlight as the default makes sense since the option is free, and it also drives membership registration, giving you the opportunity to nurture those customers and drive repeat sales.

Provide feedback.

Offering reinforcing feedback to your customers along their buyer’s journey helps move them along in a positive direction (towards the “buy” button!).  Each form filled out or product added to their cart on your website should prompt a message so the user knows the action was a success.

Some sites, for example, have pop-up text reading “Nice choice!” or “We love that one, too.”  each time an item is added to the cart. You can also use feedback to nudge the user towards the next step. For example, after your customer adds a product to the cart, you can suggest they check out and pay or continue shopping.

Anticipate errors.

People make mistakes, and some of your customers will inevitably make mistakes while visiting your website. You should test every aspect of your buying process and find where mistakes can be made. Then structure the process to make sure those mistakes are avoided. For example, can your customers accidentally remove items from their cart? A popup asking if they’re sure about the decision can prevent this from happening.

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Every decision you make will influence the choices your customers make. When you’re designing an online store, it’s essential to keep the customer’s journey in mind. Pay attention to when they have too many choices, or when they can make mistakes or get frustrated and abandon the process altogether. These are moments you can avoid by incorporating choice architecture into your design. You’ll see your customers’ choices reflected in sales, signups, and your profits.

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