The Surprising Power of Limited Choice

Here’s a harsh truth: Choice is overrated. While your average shopper may think that they like the idea of having every imaginable product available through one shopping portal, in reality nothing makes them more miserable.

Ecommerce shoppers are looking to find the right product, not an overwhelming selection of things they don’t want, don’t like or don’t need. The more products shoppers have to sort through, the more frustrated they become.

Think about the last time you browsed for an item on an ecommerce site. Assuming it was a fairly common item, like a t-shirt or a pair of shoes, your search probably returned about eight pages of results. If each page had just 20 products on it, that’s 160 options. More often than not, the overwhelming majority of those results are essentially in a random order, not relevant to you as an individual. Forcing people into scanning through eight pages in hopes of catching the product that catches their eye is a lot to expect from a shopper.

That’s exactly the situation O’Neill Clothing recently found itself in. The company all but invented the idea of a surf shop in the early 1950s, and over the following decades it was expanded into one of the world’s premier surf-ware brands. But one side effect of having a great selection of board shorts, bathing suits and other lifestyle wear, is the potential difficulty for online shoppers to connect with the merchandise that’s right for them as individuals.

O’Neill was being impacted directly by this challenge. They were stuck in a place where they wanted to continue to offer a great selection of board shorts, bathing suits and lifestyle wear, but they knew that with each new item, they were also potentially negatively impacting their conversion rate by creating a deeper sea of options. While externally, their 16 – 30 year old surf culture shoppers might seem somewhat homogeneous, within that group there is a wide array of shoppers with individual styles and preferences loyal to the O’Neill brand.

O’Neill saw that the best way to address this challenge was to implement a solution that was built around the concept of 1 to 1 personalization. This approach to customer interaction is able to recognize and capture the shopping behavior of each individual visitor, and then prioritize the presentation of the most preferred products for each individual in real time. It works by noticing the kinds of items shoppers click on or view, what items they linger on, what they add to their cart, and which ones they ultimately purchase.

The solution would need to be both powerful and fast, delivering real-time results for thousands of individual shoppers browsing the site at once. Most importantly, it needed to be able to remember each visitor, allowing the previous shopping session’s data to carry over, building an increasingly intuitive shopping experience. With a complete 1 to 1 Personalization solution in place across their site, O’Neill would not only be able to anticipate what their individual visitors were looking for, but also be able to rule out the things they probably weren’t. The shopper’s preferred products would always rise to the top.

For all this to work, it’s necessary to know enough about individual shoppers to make intelligent predictions. If a shopper is looking exclusively at men’s shorts and shirts, a smart platform would begin filtering out results for women’s clothes. If that same shopper favors shorts with specific colors, patterns or lengths, the platform will show them more items with attributes like those.

This effect is similarly powerful for returning shoppers. A woman who spent 20 minutes browsing striped bathing suits on her previous visit will see items that match the preferences she shared in her previous shopping visits displayed across her entire website experience. Those preferences inform how she sees the site, from the default product recommendations on the home page to which items are given priority as she searches. As shoppers reveal new interests and search for specific items, those characteristics become part of their profile, and are updated in real time.

This kind of limited choice is more than just a revenue strategy for O’Neill. The game changing approach has also changed the shopping experience, making it more intelligent and intuitive for their customers. Their shoppers aren’t just surfers and beach lovers, they are also active, young and web-savvy. They have grown accustomed to personalized experiences through the use of intelligent mobile apps which can predict the kind of music they want to listen to, the kinds of movies they would like to see, and even the kinds of restaurants where they would most enjoy eating. Today, shoppers are expecting this treatment from other points of interactions, including ecommerce websites.

In a sense, ecommerce has lagged behind the times, and customers are starting to feel the lack of a smart, intuitive, and informed shopping experience. Worse, they’re also increasingly fatigued from doing all the heavy lifting of finding relevant merchandise.

Even as O’Neill was implementing their 1 to 1 personalization solution, they had a strong sense they were on the right path. What they didn’t know is that by intelligently limiting customer choice, they had captured lightning in a bottle. Their results blew away even their most optimistic projections.

Within weeks after going live with their 1 to 1 personalization strategy, O’Neill saw a 26% lift in conversion rates which applied to both mobile and desktops. Revenue also increased similarly.

By limiting choice, O’Neill was doing more than simply weeding out the most irrelevant items for their shoppers. They were providing a more engaging experience and making their site more intuitive to use. With clear evidence from increased conversions and revenue, O’Neill was demonstrating that less really can be more.