Hick’s Law

Imagine this…

A few weeks ago, you realized that most of your kitchenware is in rough shape.

You bought most of it when you moved into your first college apartment, so it was cheap at the time and today it’s cheap and scratched up.

It’s time for an upgrade.

With one quick Google search, you look for a set of utensils. You know you want silver utensils and quickly find a price point you like.


Next up: pots and pans. 

There are lots of options. Should you buy each piece solo or opt for a set? Do you want stainless steel or none-stick aluminum.

After exploring 10 different websites for over an hour, you find a set that you like. But before you can hit buy, you need to choose which color you’d like.

Your options are light green, dark green, cream, white, black, navy, light orange, and dark red.

Why is it taking you longer to buy the pans than it did the silverware?

In today’s edition of Why We Buy, we’re taking a look at Hick’s Law – why more options take us longer to make a decision.

Let’s get into it…

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The Psychology of Hick’s Law 🧠

Hick’s Law was coined in 1951 after experiments by psychologists William Edmund Huck and Ray Hyman showed the correlation between people’s response time and the number of stimuli presented.

(Don’t worry, Ray didn’t get snubbed. Hick’s Law is just short for Hick-Hyman Law.)

The algorithm they uncovered figures out exactly how long it takes for someone to respond to a set number of options.

Not a math major? Hubspot breaks this down easily with an example of turning off your morning alarm through 4 options (snooze, stop, home button, and power button).

a is the amount of time it takes for you to realize your alarm is going off: 3 seconds

b is how long it takes you to cognitively process the options: 0.155 seconds

n is the number of options: 4 options

According to Hick’s Law, you’ll have a 3.31-second Response Time (RT) to your alarm every morning.

(Here’s the equation: RT = (3 sec) + (0.155 sec)(log2 (4)) = 3.31 sec.)

And your response time will only increase with more options and complex decisions.

Inside Your Buyer’s Mind🧐

The longer your buyers have to think about your offer, the more objections, hesitations, and inevitable “Do I REALLY need this?” pops into their minds.

Richard and Maurice McDonald strategically lowered response times to their menu by limiting the options.

They kept tabs on the inventory of each item and revamped their menu to only focus on the items that sold the most.

The McDonald brothers didn’t want buyers to think any longer than necessary about their purchase.

So they kept their menu very simple compared to other burger joints.

It’s safe to say that plan worked out pretty well for them.

Your buyers don’t want to be overwhelmed by the number of options available.

More options (or complex options) create buyer anxiety that brings up objections and hesitations, steering people toward the Paradox of Choice drive-thru.

How To Apply This 🤑

Alright, so how can we apply this right now to sell more?

Reduce choice complexity

Fewer choices make it easier for buyers to make decisions. To lower the choice threshold, either reduce the number of choices altogether OR allow buyers to use filters to narrow down their options.

The Juice is filled to the brim with high-quality marketing content.

If they showed their readers everything on their site in one fell swoop, they’d create a complex and overwhelming experience. Readers would get stuck thinking, “Where do I even start?!”.

Instead, they let readers choose from categories like Buyer Intent Data Tool, Content Marketing, and Sales Acceleration.

Categories reduce choice complexity and response time by making it easier for readers to choose which content they want to consume first.

Use personalized recommendations

Your buyers only care about the products that help them. They don’t need to know the details of every SKU in your business. They just need to know which products relate best to their pain points.

Use your buyer’s interests and activities to show them related products they’ll be interested in. 

Amazon added a section dedicated to personalized recommendations to each product page.

They even take the sludge out of the buying experience by showing customers how much it’ll cost to buy all 3 books instead of making them wait until they’ve added each book to their cart.

They take the complexity of searching through their massive catalog of books and show customers exactly what they’d like to read next. (See 6 more buyer psychology strategies working well for Amazon here.)

Sometimes more is better

Having more is beneficial in specific circumstances: like shelf space. Sometimes you want to create the illusion (or reality) of being the number one option just by the amount of space you’re taking up digitally or physically. In this case, more is your superpower.

An in-store jam company increased its net sales by 15-25% just by taking up more shelf space in grocery stores.

They strategically placed best-selling flavors in the high touchpoint shelf space and added jams to hot zones (like next to the waffle mix). They made their jam feel like the obvious purchase by taking over more shelf space.

There’s a reason why there are 85+ different varieties of Oreos. Taking up more shelf space nudges shoppers towards picking Oreos over other options.

The Short of It 💥

It takes buyers more time to make decisions when more options are present.

Remove friction by strategically showing fewer options and personalized recommendations that reduce their response time to a buying decision.

Until next time, happy selling.



Wanna really get inside your buyer’s head?

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Written By Katelyn

Katelyn Bourgoin is the CEO of Customer Camp, a 4X founder, and a cheese lover. She lives by a simple mantra: whoever gets closer to the customer wins.

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