Is Your Ecommerce Site Offering Too Many Choices? -
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Is Your Ecommerce Site Offering Too Many Choices?

How can you get more customers to purchase from your website? Maybe by offering them fewer images to peruse. New research from Wharton shows that, when it comes to making the sale online, less is more.

A study by marketing professors Barbara E. Kahn and Claudia Townsend conducted a series of experiments and found that people prefer to look at images than read product descriptions when shopping online. The brain processes images faster than words, so viewing images feels easier and more fun than reading words. In addition, shoppers said they like having more, rather than fewer, choices.

But what shoppers in the experiment say and what they do are two different things. While shoppers claim to want tons of images and options, in reality, if you give shoppers too many pictures to look at they become overloaded and give up. Specifically, shoppers in an experiment who had saw images of eight different products didn’t feel stressed, but once they saw images of 27 different products, they felt overwhelmed and were more likely to stop shopping.

“Consumers do not always know what is best,” the authors conclude, noting that if consumers are forced to read text about products, they generally spend more time pondering the options and process more information. But consumers don’t like reading, so they gravitate toward photo-heavy sites. That’s bad news for retailers, since shoppers tend to “skim” photo-heavy sites without actually buying anything.

What can you do to strike the right balance? The study offers some advice:

  • Presenting products visually is better than doing so verbally as long as too many products are not offered at once. The study doesn’t specify an optimal number of images, but based on the results, you should probably limit it to 24 at one time. You can set the default search results to show 8, 16 or 24 products on a page, for example.
  • If you have a large assortment of products to show, do something to “slow them down” so shoppers can take them all in. Something as simple as adding titles or brief descriptions can help by making it easier for shoppers to distinguish between options.
  • Categorize products in a variety of ways. Offer different options for consumers to filter or sort results. For example, if someone is searching for area rugs, allowing them to filter by size, shape, price or predominant color enables users to self-limit the number of images they see.

The authors suggest studying Apple’s website and emulating its successful balance between visual and verbal. Known for its “less is more” aesthetic, the retailer presents a visually pleasing, but not overwhelming, ecommerce experience.

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Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at, follow her on Google+ and, and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.
Rieva Lesonsky

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