The Psychology of Ecommerce: Choice Overload and other Paradoxes

Paul Whitmore, E*trade Group

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University January 26, 2001

People generally believe that the quality of personal freedom goes up every time the range of available options increases in quantity. Although there are certainly situations where "more is more," the number of consumer choices on the Internet overwhelms even the most vigorous surfer.

Psychologists have documented numerous paradoxes that pop up when people are free to pursue their own preferences. Surprisingly, more choice does not necessarily lead to better decisions. And because of inconsistencies and biases in decision-making, situations that increase the range of options often cause people to feel less satisfied about the choices they make.

This talk will review recent research relevant to the design of purchasing choices presented through the Web. Besides cataloguing the kinds of mistakes people typically make, information architects and designers can glean tips in how to help people deal with choice-overload.

Paul Whitmore is currently the User Interface Visionary at E*Trade. He works with designers, data-miners, and marketing professionals to insure that a leading e-commerce site remains intuitive and fun to use. He finished his Stanford Ph.D. in March of 2000. His thesis focused on long-term goal-setting, a problem at the intersection of psychology and economics. While at Stanford, he interned at Xerox PARC in the User Interface Research Group. He was also a fellow at the Center for Conflict and Negotiation, and attended the Santa Fe Institute to research the evolution of cooperation.

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