Hobson's +1 Choice Effect

Theory explained by Sander Volbeda and written by Unknown (Thomas Hobson)

Any idea how the number of options can affect the choice you make? What if you aren't able to choice? In this article we will dive into The Hobson's Choice and Hobson +1 Choice Effect effect. I will explain what this cognitive bias is and what psychological impact it can have.

Summarized. The Hobso'n Choice is about take it or leave it. The Hobson's +1 choice effect is about giving people an additional option. Giving them a addionational option will let the brain work hard to choice between the options instead of thinking about leaving.

The Hobson's +1 choice effect is about adding an extra choice for the visitors. This could for example be a link next to the call to action (CTA). The extra choice could be a link like 'add this product to your favourites'.

Let's do this!

About Hobson's Choice

Hobson's choice comes from Thomas Hobson, he was a wealthy landowner and stable owner in the 17th Century with over 40 horses. He would give those who came to ride his horses only one option, take the nearest horse to the stable door. Why? He didn't want the best horses to get overworked. If he allowed people to choose for themselves they would choose the best horses. So he told people to take the horse nearest to the stable doors or not to take one at all.

This gives the feeling of take it or leave it. When occurs a lot of people choose the leave it option. That's not what you want when optimizing for conversions (CRO).

About Hobson's +1 Choice Effect

In 2004 Barry Schwartz developed the concept of Paradox of Choice. This concept shows how people become overwhelmed when they have too many options and how this leads to frustration. The important part about the concept of Paradox of Choice is that it only comes into play after 3 or more choices. The fact is that offering people two or more options is exactly better than offering only one or none at all.

Research has shown when somebody is confronted with Hobson's choice they are more likely to go for ''leave it'' than the "take it" option. But, when there is another option added it feels easier to make a decision and opt for one of the choices shown to us.

When we're facing a ''take it or leave it'' choice, we use all our mental energy from System 2. System 2 is our slower, more deliberative, and more logical mind while System 1 is instinctive and emotional, more about this subject can be found in this article about System 1 and 2 from Daniel Kahneman. Studies have shown that when you get two options instead of one we use the same mental energy but instead of dividing it on "take it" or "leave it" it's now dividing on "take it" or "second option". As you can now understand this makes us more likely to choose one of the two "suggest/active" options instead of leaving it.

  • Always show a second option to choose from with your call-to-action.
  • Let both the options lead to the same goal, also known as trivial choice
  • No! Do not offer the alternative second option when your visitor/customer is goal-directed (returning visitors?). There might be a counter-effect since it might lead to distraction of the conscious System 2 behavior.

Hobson's +1 Choice Effect CRO Example

There are different stages in which your visitors might make choices. Ask yourself this question first, how do visitors enter your website? Use data from Google Analytics (or any other data collection tool you're using) to make sure you're right.

The next question you should ask yourself is, what is the goal on the pages your users are landing on. This could be to buy a product, subscribe to the newsletter, or let them download something.

In this case, we will continue with buying a product on an e-commerce website. The Hobson's +1 Choice Effect is often used for e-commerce websites. Let's take a look at some other examples. The first option is from Amazon.com.

Hobson's +1 Choice Effect is used by Amazon as can be seen on the screenshot

Like you can see there are multiple ways in which you can use this Hobson's +1 Choice Effect. You can either add a compare functionality as an extra option or add to favorites.

What metric to use when experimenting?

The metric often used to measure success is the click-through rate (CTR). CTR is used because you would like to keep your visitors on your website rather than leaving your website. If they go to the next page this experiment can already be seen as successful.

As secondary metric, conversions/transactions is used. It could be the case an extra option is added on for example product pages. Think about save this for later, add to favorites, email this product to myself, share this product with a friend.

Hobson's +1 Choice effect in Conversion Optimization

Implementing Hobson's +1 Choice Effect isn't hard. It's just about adding one extra option your visitors can choose from. The trick with the Hobson's +1 Choice effect is to give them only two options to choose from.

Add extra call-to-action button

Try experimenting by adding a call-to-action to your homepage to see if it increase the click-through rate (CTR). For e-commerce websites, this could be options like Buy bow or Save for later / On wish list.

Don't add extra option if the choice is logical

When the choice is obvious you don't want to distract your visitors with other options. This is often the case for landing pages. Landingpages are conversion-driven, most of the time with paid advertisement. Only a selected audience gets to see the ads and landing pages. They are likely to buy or convert since it's the audience that you have selected and which is very relevant. In this case, you don't want to give any options, this is only a distraction from the tasks they have to complete and there is a high chance they might leave the website because of this extra option.

Bonus Tips For Experimentation

Down below you can find some ideas for your experiments.

  • Add a second option to your call to action buttons (this can be a link, at least it shouldn't look like the main call-to-action. Options like compare and favorite might work well)
  • If possible try to lead both actions to the same end goal, for example to buy a product
  • When your customer has only one goal doesn't offer them the second option, you wouldn't want them to be distracted

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Example of hypothesis applied

If we add an extra button next to the call-to-action, then conversions for new users on desktop devices will increase will increase, because of Hobson's +1 Choice Effect.

If we let we let our visitors choice between getting in touch via a phone call or by email, then conversions for all users on all devices will increase, because of Hobson's +1 Choice Effect.

If we offer an additonal choice when choosing the ensurance type for a car, then average order value for all users on all devices will increase, because of Hobson's +1 Choice Effect.

References

The references contain experiments and studies that prove this bias is there.

1. Wheel of Persuasion - Hobson's +1 Choice Effect
2. Hobson's choice

Books

Would you like to go more in-depth? Here are our recommendations:

The Tyranny Of Choice by Renata Salecl
The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz Buy this book
Smart Persuasion: How Elite Marketers Influence Consumers (and Persuade Them to Take Action) by Philippe AIMÉ & Jochen GRÜNBECK Buy this book

Frequently Asked Questions

How to apply Hobson's +1 Choice Effect in digital marketing?

Hobson's +1 choice is about adding an extra link next to the call to action (CTA), for example, that could be a link like 'add this product to your favorites.

What is the Hobson's Choice Effect?

Hobson's choice is about to take it or leave it, giving people just one option. Give one more option and this person is less likely to consider leaving.

What is the Hobson's +1 Choice Effect?

Hobson's +1 choice is about adding one extra option so people have two options to choose from instead.

Can the Hobson's +1 Choice Effect be included in a hypothesis?

If we add an extra button next to the call-to-action, then conversions for new users on desktop devices will increase, because of Hobson's +1 Choice Effect.

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