Your brain gets tired, and one fatiguing activity is making choices. Various studies show that as people make more decisions, their subsequent decisions are rushed or they don’t decide at all. One study, by Ned Augenblick and Scott Nicholson of Stanford, analyzed voting patterns in a California county. They found that the lower on the ballot an item appeared, the more likely the voter was to not make a choice or to use a shortcut, like picking the first choice or voting to keep the status quo.
The Stanford research showed that this effect wasn’t insignificant; a 10% difference in abstentions was observed between items placed at the top or bottom of the ballot, and the authors found that about 6% of the propositions that had failed in actual voting would likely have passed had they been at the top of the ballot.
Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota has studied choice fatigue too, and found that a day of shopping decisions at the mall reduced the self-control of the individuals she tested. Her research showed that those subjects who had made more decisions during the day showed less inclination to study for a math test or drink a somewhat unpleasant drink in return for a reward. In essence, their brains were tired from a day of decision-making.
While one might think that a lack of self control on the part of a consumer could be a good thing for marketers, it likely isn’t. In the voting study, people were more likely to not make a decision at all if they were suffering from choice fatigue, or to choose to not change the status quo. Neither of these is beneficial to most marketing situations. And, in More Choices, Fewer Sales I discussed how offering too many choices can actually reduce sales.
The neuromarketing takeaway from choice fatigue research is that forcing a consumer to make a series of decisions will tire them out (even though they won’t be conscious of that fatigue). As the decision-making continues, they will be increasingly reluctant to decide at all, or will choose the most simple choice – often a “no” or “do nothing.” If you are selling a complex product, don’t postpone the most important decisions to the end of the process. If you leave your most profitable option (or worse, the decision to complete the order) to the very end, you are increasing the chance that the customer won’t act at all. Rather, close the deal first, and put the most important choices at the beginning.