Pt 3: Overload and Willpower

11th September 2019

Coming into the final post in this series, we look at how overloading users prevents them from making choices, and how willpower can impact what choices a person makes.

You don’t have to read Part 1 and Part 2 first but some of the jokes might not make sense.

Choice Overload

When you’re encouraging someone to do something (whether that’s buying a product or even just try a sample), you’ve got more chance of success if you limit the number of choices available.

Group A has 6 varieties of jam
Group B has 18 varieties
You could say, having too many choices puts your customers into a bit of a jam.

People are actually six times more likely to buy jam from Group A than Group B purely because it’s an easier choice to make. Even if they just have to choose which to taste from, Group A will have a higher conversion rate.

This is one of the tricks Palessi from the previous post used to ‘help’ customers choose to buy shoes. They limited what was available to reduce the mental load on their customers. It is much easier to decide which boots to buy if there are only 4 styles available.


How often have you got to the end of the day only to be asked ‘what do you want for dinner?’ and found it impossible to decide? That’s because your willpower has been depleted throughout the day and you just can’t make decisions anymore.

This is also why people tend to be granted parole if their hearing is in the morning compared to the afternoon. A study of Isreali parole rulings found that you are between two and six times more likely to have parole granted if you’re seen in the morning compared to being seen last thing in the afternoon.

How to combat overload and fatigue

Think of car websites. When you’re customising your ideal car there are HUNDREDS of choices for you to make. Do you want leather trim? Do you want metallic paint? What about a ‘winter pack’? These are sites which require their users to make choices in quick succession or they can’t covert.

1: Cut the number of decisions

Sometimes less is more; when Procter and Gamble cut their Head & Shoulders line down from 26 options to just 15, they saw a 10% sales increase

2: Categorise

This is how your supermarket makes your life easier. When you’re in the toiletries aisle, you’re in shower mode. All your headspace is filled with soap and shampoo and toothpaste. There’s no way you’re going to pick up the milk which is on display beside the paracetamol.

3: Condition for complexity

This is how car websites really make a difference. You’re first asked to pick a fuel type (two options), gearbox (two-ish options), then wheel trim (relatively inconsequential – five options), then exterior colour (can be around 53 options).