Reducing cognitive overload to Increase usability in online sale

Talking about Amazon, my friends and I all have bad experiences before. We give up selecting a specific product because of thousands of options on Amazon with all kinds of feedback evaluation, and finally, go to Ikea or Target grab one. What’s wrong with Amazon? It gives us choices as more as they can, but why doesn’t it make Amazon competitive? Here is a common belief in our subconscious that more choice is always better. However, is it the truth especially in online sales?

Two researchers: Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper conducted an experiment to find out the psychology of choice and how the number of options would influent us. They set up a jam tasting booth in Draeger’s, which is an upscale grocery store in Menlo Part, California. They displayed 24 different flavors of jam in half of the time, and they showed 6 flavors in the rest of the time. They collect two data in particular in this research.
– Stop and sample some jam
– Buy a jar of jam
Then give a result that in which scenario people were more likely to do the two things above.

Here is the counter-intuitive result: in the circumstances that were showing 24 flavors of jam, 60% of people stopped there, and 3% of those who stopped bought a jar. Compared with the circumstances that were showing six flavors of jam, only 40% of people sopped, but 30% of them purchased a jar. Therefore, even though people were more attracted to the place providing more choices at first when they came to consider buying, customers were at least six times more likely to buy from fewer options place than more choices place.

Why would fewer choices lead to a better selling performance in sales? Because when people are facing many choices and have to choose one of them, they begin to be nervous and feel hard to make a decision (the chance to make a wrong decision is higher than before). Thus, the more options you offer people, they are more likely to spend a huge of time to decide, which also means have more chance to give up and quit form this potential purchase. Besides, more options platform makes a higher opportunity cost. People need to understand more information about these goods and compare it with more other competitors. It is not strange to give up by thinking in this way.

Psychologists call this phenomenon choice overload, which belongs to cognitive overload. So what can we do with this phenomenon?

“Getting in the way of a speeding freight train usually doesn’t end well. It takes much effort to shift the course of something with that much momentum. Rather than forcing people to divert their attention from their primary task, come to where they are.”

–Luke Wroblewski, Product Director at Google

Therefore, we should give users the appropriate number of choices or use a perfect way to hide some of them to make users feel easy to finish this option choosing. Let them find where they are by themselves.


So how to increase both the usability in the online sale and the online purchase? It will be discussed particularly by three stages: register, become a paid member and make a purchase.


Let’s take a look at how Twitter’s register page looked like in 2009:

How it looks like today:

There were five things you could do in the 2009 version, but only sign in and sign up today. People will never get so much distraction again. Here are also some great register page.

Spotify give users the option to sign up with social media account, which is a very convenient way with less hesitation. Also users can sign up with email as well. Simple and clear.


Become a Paid Member

Next, become a paid member. It is always happened in the paid App, like Spotify, Grammarly, and Amazon Prime, or some B2C products. Here are some worse, bad, good, and perfect examples.


The “Start Free Trail” button is so small, and it doesn’t make sense that these free trail button is in the “Pro” and “Agency” part. I believe BuzzSumo wants users to try free trail very much, because just few people would like to pay at least 99 dollars per month without trying. Therefore, these blue buttons should be more distinct and these choices should be more logical.


This Spotify’s premium plan page is not clear at all. What I could get is the free choice on the top, 0.99 dollars or 4.99 dollars some choices on the left and right. It should be more logical and user friendly by only showing crucial information and laying out like the next one.


This page from Grammarly is much better! Users could easily understand how different between these three types of plan. Besides, the “Best Value” one is colored yellow, which makes it distinct, and it makes sense because it is the cheapest one.


15 Five only have one option for users, so there is no comparing work need to be done. I am not to say one option is the best solution, but it deserved our attention to think about simplifying.

Make a Purchase

Finally, make a purchase. We still take Amazon for instance, because even it had too many products, it has some movement to make it better.

Here are two screenshots showing how Amazon list the products you probably be interested in.

Amazon shows only six or seven of them instead of everything, and if you are interested more, you can click “next” button to check. It is smart and also do not bother users.

To conclude, using psychology knowledge of cognitive overload can help us improve usability in online sales. Less is more. However, there is no “magic number” for getting the best sales. It depends on different products, industry, platform, and users. The best way is to experiment and figure out the best number for your own product.




Iyengar S S, Lepper M R. When choice is demotivating: can one desire too much of a good thing?[J]. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 2000, 79(6):995-1006.







Design Critique: Shopbop online shopping App (IOS application)

Shopbop is a US online fashion apparel and accessories shop opened in 1999. It is positioned in a high-end users’ market and also very popular especially in women’ business. Shopbop has been a subsidiary of since 2006. That means it allows prime users to enjoy the free shipping and returning service. Thus, the market based on mobile is no time to delay.

Shopbop App (IOS application) is divided into five parts: Home, What’s new, Shop, Designer, My account. In my opinion, Shop is the most used part, and this button is in the middle of the five. It is smart to make it the easiest button to click. However, by observing this App, many shortages exist. As Don Norman says: “Interaction design’s goal is to enhance people’s understanding of what can be done, what is happening, and what has just occurred.” Also “Experience design focus on the quality and enjoyment of the total experience.” Personally speaking, Shopbop App is still in the stage of Interaction design. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of its design below (I don’t mention some basic and obvious design).


1. The “heart shape” is a clear signifier that I could click it to drop the clothes to “my favorite”. Also, the “turning pink” feedback makes me sure about it.(advantages 1 & 2)

2. The main buttons are on the bottom of the page. They are in light gray without clicking. If it is clicked, it will turn to dark gray, and also a pretty dynamic effect that the circle appears from a dot. Great and cute feedback!

3. The word in the box and the passwords’ rule are great constraints to let users know what should put in the input box, and the shade in the box is a good mapping to show it is an input box.

(advantage 3)

4. It is good to color the “forgot password?” Button orange but without button shape (different with “sign in”button). It makes sense because “sign in” is a strong button and mapping (users have to click it in this page to success). But the “forgot password?” button is a weak button with strong function (people are not supposed to use it, and it is a low possible button to click, but if you forget about it unfortunately, it must be easy and conspicuous to see.)

(advantage 4)

5. It is a brilliant design to keep the user still in the app instead of closing it when “my cart” has nothing. They recommend two options for users: shop by category or by what’s new, and it is a classic marketing strategy.

(advantage 5)


1. I don’t like the “you also might like” part because there are no brands and prices! I haven’t seen any shopping app or application showing items in this way. After all, the most important thing customers caring about is the price. If it is higher than my budget (like I prepare 100 dollars for a sweater, but the system recommends me a 200 dollar one), I will definitely not consider. However, if it is a super gorgeous 120 dollar sweater, I have to say, as for a woman’s nature, I will give it a chance.

(disadvantage 1)

2. As you can see here, it loses comments part! It is a huge problem for a shopping App because most of the people are taking other’s opinion as the key information to decide to buy it or not. Without this part, I feel such insecurity. Shopping on the Internet is high risk, due to only have several pictures as reference, especially since they are beautiful skinny 5.9 inches’ model. I know Shopbop has this part on the website, so please add this function to the App.

(disadvantage 2)

3. Bad feedback. When clicking the “magic stick” icon, the item added to wishlist as I wish. But there is no difference between I click it or not, so it is hard to know if I have already put it into wishlist after a while looking this item’s picture or information. They should add more feedback here.

(disadvantage 3)

4. The terrified button is the “Sort/Filter”. It only shows when I scroll up (not show up when scrolling down), and it just stays there and doesn’t fade away. For me, it is so annoying, and when I want it, I have to make some extra move to open it. What’s more, Sort and Filter are both essential functions, so I prefer to make them stay on the top (maybe one on the left and one on the right). It can fit users’ habits more and be more effective.

(disadvantage 4)

5. Terrible mapping, the “remove” button is too tiny, and colored gray without button shape. It is confusing and seemed not clickable. The first time I found this function is by scrolling left, it is also a weak button there (gray looks cannot be clicked). Removing is a significant function in online shopping system, though I understand Shopbop does not want us to remove the item. But if I want to do it, the “weak button” cannot block me but only make me mad.

(disadvantage 5)

To conclude, as Norman says: “We have to accept human behavior the way it is, not the way we would wish it to be.” Shopbop will be better and better after rounds of evaluations and redesign.