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Can your practice have too much choice?

By Graham Jones
The psychology of choice is an important factor when selling eyewear. GRAHAM JONES suggests optical professionals could take a lesson from the world of online dating.

Single people have never had so much choice; they can join dozens of dating sites and review millions of potential partners all from the privacy of their homes. Finding the perfect partner has never been so easy – so why is the number of single people increasing?

One in three people in the US is single and there are 6.5 million single people in Australia, according to government research. Despite the choice on offer, it seems that people are finding it harder to find that right partner.

In the past, the process was less complicated. Potential partners were determined by geography and people married locally. Now, literally the world is the playing field – but the chances of finding a pearl in an oyster is less than 0.001% and it seems the same is true with dating.

"There’s a fine line between offering the best advice and overwhelming patients with choice."

This is occurring for one simple reason – there’s too much choice. Daters know there’s always someone else so they continue looking for perfection without ever finding it.

Choice is an important psychological factor. Research indicates that the greater the choice, the more likely a customer will have trouble choosing. When there is too much product, customers stop focusing on the positive attributes and start looking for flaws – which is also what happens in online dating. In addition, too much choice increases disappointment, regardless of whether the selection options are potential dating partners or eyewear.

Studies show that when humans are faced with multiple choices, they actually delay making a selection. It’s interesting to note that by providing people with fewer options, three things can happen: people make a selection more easily, they make a choice more quickly, and they’re happier with their choice.


Far from providing sumptuous choice, practices should consider limiting the initial selection presented to the patient both in terms of direct interactions with optical dispensing staff and the practice’s physical layout.

Successful retailers know exactly how to funnel shoppers towards the items they wish to sell, leading them down an imaginary mental pathway using simple choices. Some practices, however, will merely present all stock, failing to realise that this makes for a terrible experience, similar to searching through bargain bins filled to the brim with an entirely uncategorised assortment of DVDs.

Customers can also get confused if they have to select from things they do not really understand. So providing choice through brand name, for example, doesn’t necessarily make sense to a patient who wants to select a specific style (eg, full-frame, half-frame, frameless, etc).


One way to address this is by putting a small number of frames on display in three sections; people find it easy to choose between three things. One area of the shop could offer a choice between styles, another where they choose between brands and another where they choose between age groups.

"Practices should consider limiting the initial selection so as not to overwhelm"

An issue that is more unique to optometrists is that of the increasing number of lens options due to technological advancement. While customers can easily view, handle and try on frames, attempting to explain the advances in lenses can be far more difficult as the various options are not easily demonstrated to or experienced by the patient. Recognising this, one well-known optical chain has deliberately reduced its lens choice.

There’s a fine line between offering the best advice and overwhelming patients with choice. Providing patients with your top three recommendations for their needs will provide a more streamlined approach that will help them better understand the options and make it easier for them to make a decision – and therefore much more likely that they’ll make a purchase.


The psychology of choice is just as important online as it is in a physical practice, and categories should also be used when showcasing products on a website. Instead of presenting all products on one page, allow them to be filtered into groups such as brand, collection, style, material and/or age group.

A webpage that shows 250 glasses in no particular order will confuse browsers and create a delay in decision-making. Even if consumers are buying online, they’re more likely to leave your e-commerce store bewildered and empty-handed than they would had stock been presented in categories.

For all its brilliance, Amazon would sell a lot more if it limited its choices. By using categories, the customer can focus on the task at hand and select a purchase from a smaller number of items.


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