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I was intrigued by an article in the Los Angeles Times entitled "Too Many Choices Can Tax the Brain Research Shows." It said in part, "Americans have come to expect a wide array of choices, and most companies, be they car companies, clothiers or coffee shops, have been more than willing to pony up.

But more choices do not always equate to happier consumers. In fact, some studies show that having to make too many decisions can leave people tired, mentally drained and more dissatisfied with their purchases."

This was detailed in Matt Haig's 2003 book Brand Failures. He noted that "Procter & Gamble's brand strategy in the 1980s seemed to be: why launch one product, when 50 will do? However, increased choice equaled increased confusion.

As a result, Crest lost market share... as soon as there were 50 Crest toothpastes, its market share dipped to 25 percent and fell behind Colgate." When they had one product they captured above 50 percent of the market.

I would add because it was easy for the customer.

The LAT story said as much in their helpful tips, "Sometimes it's good to rely on habit — 'put the blinders on and get the same toothpaste you always get,' says Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College."

How this impacts your retail business

What is so deadly about this for retailers is that we think giving our customers more choice is better. But if the customer can't quickly get why one product is better than the other, they become overwhelmed and put blinders on.

That's because it's easier to settle.

If there is no one there to help whittle down their choices or find out what they are trying to do and then matching product to their use, you lose the sale.

And the higher the ticket, the higher your stakes.

That's why you need salespeople, not clerks.

The evidence is overwhelming that customers are over-choiced, from the menus in restaurants, to the products on the sales floor. We just don't want to make the wrong choice. Salespeople, true salespeople can make the difference.

Yes, Paul Schottmiller and I recently discussed the customer survey by Cisco Systems that found 68% said online reviews were one of their top three influencers whereas only 13 percent indicated store associates.

But I believe that says more about the quality of the store associates in many stores than customers' proclivity to seek solutions from store employees.

What to do to drive conversions

You want to get your store sales up? Do the hard part of hiring people who can sell, who can funnel down hundreds of choices of paint, of carpet, of furniture, of black dresses, of whatever, into what customers can easily decide on. Salespeople are out there looking for work, whittle down your resumes to those who have proven they can sell the merch.

Your competitors are "putting blinders on" and hiring whoever will fog the mirror, work the hours and be grateful for a job.

To get your store moving, take the time now to whittle down your choices of who you allow on your sales floor, train them how to sell and you'll be able to help customers choose, not settle – or worse, walk out the door empty-handed.

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the Retail Doctor

Latest posts by Bob Phibbs
Bob Phibbs
Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor, is a popular motivational speaker and small business Consultant who has transformed thousands of businesses throughout the world with his straightforward, proven advice. His success at making over businesses has been featured on PBS Life & Times, in the Los Angeles Times, Entrepreneur magazine, and the New York Times.
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