The "Orange Chicken" Moment

A couple of weekends ago, a few friends and I went to a really nice restaurant on Portobello Road in London: A trendy, hipster type of place with a cozy ambiance. Of course, instead of a traditional sound system, they had a reel-to-reel player. I digress. Anyway, so we sat down, and started studying the menu and conversing around the different options.

Our Italian waiter approached the table with a smile on his face and started asking everyone for their orders. We were six people. Simon was last. He’s quite particular when it comes to ordering food, but oddly enough, he went for the “Orange Chicken”: A sweet deep-fried kind of dish that you would need plentiful of napkins to consume. As Simon told the waiter about the order, the waiter hesitated for a second and looked at Simon with sincere admiration. “Great choice, sir. This is our most popular dish. Very delicious”. There was a pause. Around the table, my friends starting looking at each other. “Should I have ordered the Orange Chicken?”

So what’s the point to this story?

A week after visiting the restaurant, I was reviewing a design of a product overview page for an eCommerce project. On the page, three products were featured with varied attributes and pricing. Oddly enough, so I thought, at the bottom and the top of the page there were also teasers for product bundles, in which an unrelated product was included.

This is when the “Orange Chicken” story came back. Why were we up-selling in this situation? Customers who are going to navigate to the overview might have quite a set idea of what they need. And then. You see something completely different. You might get enticed and steered away, but it could also cause confusion. “Am I going to make the right choice?” From a usability perspective, instinctively, it feels like we should provide the customer with plentiful of choices. But if more choices are potentially confusing customers, shouldn’t we limit options?