How To Sell More Coffee With Fewer Beans (AKA, Beat Analysis Paralysis)

by | Jan 20, 2021 | 🚀 Coffee Ecommerce

Sell a large variety of coffee beans online? When it comes to customer psychology, less is more (sales).
Coffee business customer research

You know those coffee shops that have huge menus with dozens of drink options? Or those restaurant menus that just go and go (I’m looking at you, 21-page Cheesecake Factory menu)?

It’s overwhelming, even for those of us who know our way around a coffee menu. It’s way worse for people who don’t.

If you’ve worked in a coffee shop before, you’ve no doubt seen that customer who walks in and stares at the menu board for a confusing amount of time. They ask one question, you kindly answer, then they look back at the menu board, still perplexed. When another customer walks in and greets you, the overwhelmed customer takes it as their opportunity to duck out quietly, not having made a purchase.

Analysis paralysis is when a large variety of options makes it feel so overwhelming or risky to pick one, that it’s safer to not make a choice.

For customers, it’s a fast way to kill a blooming emotional connection. For your business, it means fewer sales.

It’s Bad In Cafes, It’s Worse In Ecommerce

Platforms like Squarespace and Shopify aren’t always great at helping customers make decisions. More often than not, they encourage people to view large category pages of 10+ coffees.

Bottomless is a coffee startup that offers customers a smart scale that automatically reorders coffee from third-party roasters as the person starts to run low. It’s a neat idea, and I’m sure their mobile app is great, but their online storefront is what I’d call the epitome of coffee analysis paralysis.

Bottomless coffee is analysis paralysis central

Dozens and dozens of coffees to choose from. Even if a customer identifies the right category of beans (light roast, for example), they still have to sift through countless coffees – and without much help.

Imagine being a customer who’s new(ish) to coffee. With 40+ coffees on the screen, selecting one is near impossible.

It’s important to mention why.

Why Analysis Paralysis Is So Crippling

Smarter minds than I have identified that there are three key moments in a purchasing decision that’s sabotaged by paralysis analysis.

  • Zero-Help Analysis — When presented with options, but no guidance on how to make a choice, customers are left to figure things out on their own. Making the customer do all the work can often feel like a burden, rather than an opportunity.
  • Outcome Prediction — We buy products to generate a desired outcome, but if you’re buying something for the first time (or from a new roaster), you don’t know what that outcome is. This generates a small amount of anxiety, because nobody wants to be let down by buying coffee that wasn’t a great fit for them after all.
  • Risk and Uncertainty — Every decision can have unforeseen consequences, so evaluating all the options is one way to manage risk. However, if there are more than five coffees to evaluate, for example, it might feel like too great a burden to go through that whole process, and the customer is likely to revert to a roaster they’re more familiar with.

Put simply: analysis paralysis means fewer sales, because customers experience decision fatigue and overwhelm.

Two Ways To Avoid Analysis Paralysis On Your Coffee Ecommerce Store (+ Examples)

Nixing this whole problem isn’t hard, but it does mean you’ll have to be intentional about how you display your coffees to customers online. 

Don’t just plop a SHOP button on your homepage that leads to a giant collection of products. Use one of these tricks instead.

Easy: Highlight Featured Coffees

The simplest way to help customers avoid overwhelm is to put a big spotlight on a coffee or two that you want to highlight as a business.

There are a few ways to identify these coffees:

  • Featured Coffees — Pick a few of your barista favorites.
  • New Coffees — What’s newly available?
  • Top-Selling — What are the customer favorites by sales volume?

I like how Onyx Coffee Lab breaks out two of these highlight types into product categories on their website you can easily navigate to as a customer.

onyx coffee new coffee offerings

Your customers know and trust you. When you make recommendations, it shows you have opinions about what you sell. 

Bottomless is the barista who, when asked “what do you suggest?”, responds back with an apathetic, “hmm, it’s all pretty good”. Onyx Coffee Lab is the barista who gets excited because they’re in love with this delicious new coffee that you’ve got to try.

Harder: Break The Decision Into Smaller Steps 

Sometimes the best way to help people decide what they’re interested in is to walk them through a few steps. When I was a barista, we’d ask if the customer wanted a hot or iced drink, or if they wanted coffee with milk or just black coffee.

Asking a handful of detailed questions helps remove the complexity of a decision and replaces it with smaller, manageable choices.

I think Trade Coffee does an exceptional job at this. The quiz they make all new customers take has seven questions that guide them to their perfect coffee.

Trade coffee subscription offers a coffee quiz

Despite having 400+ coffees at any given time, Trade makes it simple, straightforward, and most importantly easy to pick one.

At the end of the day, it’s not about specific tactics. Just keep your customer in mind and remember the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Hey 👋 I'm Garrett Oden

Hey 👋 I'm Garrett Oden

Freelance Coffee Marketer

I'm a coffee industry native who works with coffee brands around the world to create and execute captivating marketing strategies.

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