Did you know that the more choices you offer, the less satisfaction your customer will have with the choice he or she makes? It is true and is the subject of Barry Schwartz’s book: The Paradox of Choice, Why More is Less.
This is not going to evaluate the book at all but more to talk about my personal experience with L.L.Bean. I hope you will be able to take way something (in a marketing your business) from my story. If you are in business for yourself and offer products and services you might want to read this post and then read Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice.
Here is my story as it relates to Schwartz’s book
I just received my pair of L.L.Bean pants from, you guessed it, L.L.Bean. I hated both pairs I received and now have to spend about $7.00 sending them back in which I already spent that much sending the shirts back., So, now I am in the hole for about $14.00 for a gift for my birthday. This $50.00 gift certificate is not going to last much longer.
Anyway the point of this blog post is that the L.L.Bean website had way too many choices for simple khaki pants.
First there were: Chinos, Dress Pants and Casual Pants for the main areas for main pages for pants. Under Chinos, there was:
- Double L Chinos, Classic Fit Plain Front
- Double L Chinos, Classic Fit Pleated
- Dress Chinos, Classic Fit Pleated
- Dress Chinos, Classis Fit Plain Front
- Signature Chinos, Natural Fit
- Lines Double L Chinos, Plain Front
- Double L Chinos, Natural Fit Pleated
OK,OK, stop right there. The list is much longer but I had stop to ask: What’s the difference between the Double L Chinos, Classic Fit Pleated and the Double L Chinos, Natural Fit Pleated or more simply: What’s the difference between Classic Fit and Natural Fit. I mean, what is a natural fit? What is a classic fit? They sound like they can apply to the same thing to me.
I have not even gotten to the Comfort Fit. I got to be honest with you, when I am feeling natural and I also feeling pretty comfortable and maybe a tad classic all at the same time. These choices and descriptions really do not tell me anything.
Maybe if they something like
- Chinos for fat guys
- Chinos for having the gut hang over the beltline
- Chinos for tucking in the gut
- Chinos for snobs and slobs
- Chinos for big butts and no waist.
- Chinos for beer guts and chicken legs
These are not the best descriptions (they haven’t hired me yet) and I am obviously being facetious, but they are sure a hell of a lot better than: Classic Fit, Natural Fit, and Comfort Fit. What the hell is a Natural Fit? Is that anything like a Natural Light beer?
Much like Barry Schwartz’s book, I could go on and on about this problem. And for the sake of not sounding a lot like Andy Rooney, I will stop with the rating right here and get more practical:
When you offer too many choices, the chances of someone not liking what they get (especially via mail-order), goes way up. The chances that there will be returns to your store also goes way up. If the customer has to pay $7.00 for every return (via mail order, like in L.L.Bean’s case), then a $25 original purchase starts to not make sense anymore. And eventually shopping at the store no longer makes either.
The point of all this is that L.L.Bean offered over thirty “slightly” different styles of khaki pants for which to choose from. I will never be satisfied with what I picked. It’s like a lottery. You cannot satisfy people with such myriad choices. After all, your brand should say that you are doing the choosing for your customer. You might as well have a slogan that says, “We have stuff.”
If you are a Porsche, you are saying, no matter what car you get from us you getting a quality car and they car you want. Porsche stand for style. In my mind L.L. Bean
did too at one time. I had been a customer of L.L. Bean since 1979. During that time I could order anything from their catalog and be absolutely satisfied and know without a doubt that what they sent me was what I wanted. No guess work involved.
Now, L.L. Bean stands for nothing but a bunch of random choices. I can no longer rely on L.L. Bean to be my fashion expert because they no longer have that expertise. They are just throwing a lot of shit on the wall.
Have you ever gone to a classic diner? They have pages and pages of items on the menu. None of them are all that great. Compare that to a high class five star restaurant. They may have eleven entrees and a few appetizers. They are saying, “Hey, we know what is good and this is it.” That’s what I want my clothing retailer to tell me. I want them to have the confidence and say, “this is the highest quality stuff and we know you will love this,” over and over again.
I don’t know who is running L.L.Bean or is in charge of the marketing department, but they need to be removed immediately. I am sure that they can ague that L.L.Bean has grown substantially with their broadening product line and myriad choices. No doubt and no shit. But how much more profitable are they.
These are the things that deplete the profitability of L.L.Bean:
- Customer returns
- Marketing (i.e. writing, catalog pages, web pages, ads, etc.) of the product
- Customer service representative (to make sense of all the choices in their catalog) answering questions like: What’s the difference between Natural Fit and Comfort Fit
A lot of is perception and A lot of it is reality. The perception is if you offer so many items, how any one of them can be all that good. Like the diner example. How could one cook possibly make all of these items well? This is the perception that some people have. This perception comes from the reality that it is very hard to make all those things well.
I can guarantee without a doubt that the CEO or whoever is charge over there at L.L.Bean has never read: Barry Schwartz’s book: The Paradox of Choice, Why More is Less.
Ash Waechter is a direct response copywriter who helps small businesses sell more products and services online. He also writes SEO copy for attracting readers from around the web.