How Having Too Many Options May Hurt You

If you look at my shop, you will notice that there are not a ton of options. First of all, I only have three images for sale as prints. Diving in just a touch further, there is only one size available for each print. Looking into this more, the prices are also rather high – I am well aware of that and have done that on purpose; I promise to delve further into that aspect of my print shop later on, possibly in another article. And I am sure that by now, some people have been wondering why I have so few options on my print shop. With all the images I have in my portfolio – let alone my database – why would I limit the options for you guys?

In my humble opinion, giving customers more options leads to more problems

Have you ever walked into a store, only to be blown away at the sheer number of things for sale? You walk over to one of the shelves and have to crane your neck just to see what lies on the top shelf. Shirt racks are piled up with the same style of shirt, with the colors being the only aspect changing; and the company selling those shirts made damn sure to include every single shade of blue there is. Why? Possibly in hopes of appealing to more people. Maybe you don’t quite care for a navy blue and would rather have a turquoise or baby blue shirt. From the outside looking in, this could seem like a wonderful business option. Not only are you providing your buyers with more options, but you are also appealing to ten times the number of people, just because you have so many colors available.

But does this really work?

Whenever I walk into a store looking for nothing in particular, I find myself roaming the shelves. I could be in that store for hours, looking at all of the options, trying to figure out what – if anything – I want to buy. And that is where the problem really comes in. If I am feeling conflicted by the number of choices I have, the chances of me buying something lessens.

And that’s not the only problem

Often times, people will feel utterly overwhelmed by too many options. They are less likely to buy something when they cannot make a choice. Look at yourself for a moment; if you want into Walmart or a store with a ton of options, how likely are you to buy what you really came in there for? I bet that you go in there, walk around looking for what you want, and then end up buying ten things that weren’t even on your list, completely missing what you really needed. So then you come back, buy three more things you didn’t need, along with what you did want.

And that’s why Walmart has succeeded so much. The sheer number of items available overwhelms you, leading to you buying useless shit. But the problem that comes in for you and I – as small business owners of sorts – is that people are more likely to return things that they do not feel they need. Yes, if you give the customer ten different options, they are likely to buy at least one of them, if not a couple so long as the price is right. Then, if they figure out shortly after receiving it that they only wanted the one item, they will try to get their money back, one way or another. People are sneaky like that – trust me.

If you only have a few options, however, your customers are more likely to make an educated choice on what it is they want to buy. You are more likely to really think about which print or calendar or book or whatever that you want to buy. My mind tells me that this is the better option of the two. Even if I were to put on a no-return policy for my prints – regardless of damage or whatever – I feel as though my customers would become far too overwhelmed by the number of choices. And then, when or if they wish to return something, they will be upset over the no-return policy; maybe they will try to damage the artwork in one way or another. Or, even worse:

They won’t appreciate the art they bought.

The more options available, the harder it is to supply

Let’s keep looking at Walmart for a bit. Walmart is a huge chain, with thousands – if not millions – or stores throughout the United States. The average revenue they make is in the billions. They can afford to supply their stores, even if they cannot figure out how to hire more than one cashier. And all of their products – or at least 99.9% of them – are made by someone else; they pay a set fee for each product, buy it in bulk directly from the manufacturer, and then they sell it for more than they bought it for. That’s how every business like Walmart works.

However, us artists – we aren’t like those big businesses. We aren’t able to buy our artwork in bulk and sell it for more. Yeah, we can buy the paper and supplies in bulk from the company, so long as we have the money. But we can only make so much of each product. Even as a photographer, it isn’t smart on a business standpoint to sell open edition prints. Eventually, you would get tired of printing the same old work, just to make some quick cash.

And if you land up selling your work for cheap – cheap enough for everyone in the world who kind of, sort of likes you work to buy it – you may end up with hundreds of sales a month. Is it likely? No, not really. But at that point, it becomes very difficult to supply your shop. There are artists out there who print out every edition of their limited edition prints once the first one is ordered. Image having to do this for twenty or more images, just so that you can say they were printed in the same day. The sheer amount of paper you would need, paired with the ink and all the other supplies, would be insane; and on top of that, you would need a place to store all of these prints.

You risk becoming option-blind

I had not originally thought of this, so it was not included in my first saved draft of this post. However, I read online about the idea of becoming option-blind. Essentially, what this means is that, if you put all your eggs in one basket, you may forget that there are other baskets that could be filled. In terms of selling my artwork as prints, I could get so caught-up with selling prints that I forget about all of the other products I could be selling. By selling only a few prints, I can think of other products to sell as well, such as coffee-table books, workshops, calendars, etc. And since I won’t have a multitude of images to prepare for printing – and then print off – I will be able to really focus on some of my other options.

There is a little saying that I absolutely love to live by:

Quality over quantity.

I would much rather have one product available for my customers that only comes in one size for one set price, and really be able to make sure that it is absolutely perfect, than have twenty or more products available, with the quality suffering tremendously.