Peter Smith, author of “Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions to Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent,” has spent 30 years building retail sales teams and has worked in wholesale as well. He can be reached at Dublinsmith@yahoo.com
Have you ever visited a Cheesecake Factory restaurant? If you have not, let me set the table for you. The food is, on the whole, pretty decent, the ambiance, for a larger restaurant, is warm and inviting and the prices are not terribly high.

Here’s the bad news: The Cheesecake Factory does not so much provide a menu as they give you a tome to navigate. The mega-menu is filled with so many options to the point that you can become paralyzed for fear of making the wrong decision.

As I turn each page of the huge menu my world becomes a blur until I eventually--since I was either persuaded by someone to make a reservation in the first place or had to wait for an hour to be seated-- settle on some dish or other, not entirely convinced that I’ve selected the right meal.

Second-guessing becomes the order of the day as I question whether I should have chosen something else. If I had more time with the menu perhaps I might have been more confident in my choice? Maybe I should have involved my wife to have been more certain, or surely the waiter could have offered a greater endorsement for one dish or another?

The Cheesecake Factory makes my head hurt. They make it too difficult for me to select a meal and to feel good about my choice. This phenomena is called the paradox of choice. We need choices, we need to feel that we are in control of our destiny, even for a seemingly simple decision like selecting a meal in a restaurant. When we are given too many options, however, the decision can become almost impossible to make. We occasionally manage to struggle through but such experiences are rarely pleasant and frequently unfulfilling.

Unlike a restaurant, where we are compelled to select something, a similar scenario in a jewelry store very often produces different results. Presenting too much information, and too many product options, can overwhelm the client to the point that inaction becomes not just the preferred option but, in many cases, the only viable option. 

When faced with a Cheesecake Factory-like portfolio of choices, far too many customers leave the store without making any purchase at all.

Their desire to escape the barrage of stuff (both information and product) becomes far more appealing than their need to make a buying decision. They have become so overwhelmed with options that they experience purchase-paralysis, and removing themselves from that stress by leaving the store becomes the best course of action.

There are, of course, no absolute number of options that a customer should have in a jewelry store, but I believe that three is about the right number.

Most of us are familiar with the general principle of “good, better, best” and, while we tend to think of that approach in a broader scale (my diamond story, my watch story, etc.), it also serves as a good approach in a more micro sense, once the engagement with customer has advanced to the stage that product should be introduced. 

As Barry Schwartz wrote in The Paradox of Choice, “Having the opportunity to choose is essential for well-being, but choice has negative features, and the negative features escalate as the number of choices increases.”

Peter Smith, author of Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions to Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent, has spent 30 years building sales teams at retail and working with independent retailers to offer counsel and advice on matters of sales, marketing, personnel, training and compensation. A graduate of Boston College, he has served on the Advisory Board of Caliper’s Global Conference. Smith has worked in retail and on the wholesale end of the business with companies such as Tiffany & Co. and Hearts On Fire. Hiring Squirrels is available in print and Kindle on Amazon.com. Smith can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and on LinkedIn.


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