Should mobile apps cut down on choice overload?

Conventional wisdom has always maintained that the more choices or features you offer your customer, the happier he/she is and therefore more likely to love and use your app. Right? Surely this is pretty much straightforward?

Turns out it’s actually not. Sometimes, there’s quite a good chance you’re simply confusing, or worse, overwhelming your user by cramming loads of options into a tiny app, leaving him less likely to go ahead and perform the actions within the app that you want him to. Display advertising done wrong.

Innumerable choices are great when you want to make an impression, but may not necessarily result in solid conversions.

A classic demonstration

This interesting experiment lends some real credibility to the argument put forward above. A few years back, a couple of researchers put up two jam stalls, with a slight difference. The first offered 24 different flavors you could sample and eventually buy, while the second exhibited only 6. The result? While more people stopped to browse at the table with more choices, only a mere 3% went on to make a purchase. In sharp contrast, 30% of the ones who stopped at stall 2 went on to buy a jar of jam.

While this study may not have necessarily taken other psychological aspects into account, it is fair to imply that plain confusion was one of the major turnoffs for the shoppers in scenario 1. We might even reasonably infer that with a more optimum quantity of choices, people tend to pursue a particular choice with more vigor, since it makes it easier to eliminate the ones they definitely know they don’t want.

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App notifications need a focal point

Let’s extend this argument to the re-targeting ads that an e commerce app typically displays. I recently used an advertising app to buy a second hand laptop, and narrowed it down to a couple of choices. But the cluttered homepage kept pinging me with more choices than I could handle. Five new ads would pop up each time I clicked on one, almost as if the app was flaunting its options, making me hold out a bit longer each time in the hope that I could find a better deal. I still haven’t bought the laptop.

This is a classic example of in-app features and ad pop ups done wrong, ending up having the opposite effect of what it intends to do.

Take push notifications for example. An app that wants to send out notifications about a big sale has two choices. The obvious one is to send out a generic sale banner Push, talking about all the products the sale covers, but this is a haphazard cluttered approach. Worse, it means the push has nothing particularly relevant to talk to them about, and will most likely go unseen.
Hiding in plain sight

A push that goes unnoticed is even worse than a badly timed one that infuriates the user, or even one with irrelevant or non personalized content. But, that is exactly the kind of risk you’re running if your pushes contain too much information.

Too much information is as bad as no information, and you effectively have nothing specific to hold the user’s attention in the two seconds in which he/she ponders whether to swipe away this spammy notification.

Customers are so used to hyper-personalization that anything less will probably be ignored. And isn’t narrowing down the choices the whole point of personalization? Using previous user history to personalize the Push can help narrow down on the product most likely to tempt that particular user to notice it. Highlight that on the message and you’ve got your man. Hook line and sinker.


Know your user

While this may admittedly be easier for users who have carted certain products, the ones who have dropped off your home or product view is a different story. Here, it is recommended that you build user personas and map them with look alikes in order to categorize these users better and craft product-specific pushes to send their way.

‘Limit your choices’ is the first thumb rule to keep in mind here. It aims to draw the users’ attention to the aspects that are most relevant, and prevents overwhelming them with too many complex choices. The most intelligent apps strike a perfect chord in targeting their users, displaying only the most applicable choices in plain sight, subconsciously almost guiding the user to the end action by manufacturing interest in the ad.

What do you think? Can too many choices be overwhelming, or just plain beneficial? Write to us at with your thoughts.

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