The paradox of choice

Like most of the nation, I’ve truly embraced café culture! I visited a local Starbucks recently, and for the first time, I forced myself to step out of my ‘system one’ behaviour, which is to order a Decaf Cappuccino; something I’ve done for years.

I realised that I don’t even LOOK to see if there is anything else, and when I did, my goodness, what a choice there was! Frappe, Latte, Mocha, Americano, Pumpkin Flavour, Cinnamon Flavour, Skinny, Fat, you name it, they sold it! This choice is great, and offers something new for the consumer. However the choice is also quite intimidating; often making it difficult to come to a decision.

Having considered some alternatives, what did I buy? A Decaf Cappuccino of course and I doubt I’m alone in this. Barry Schwartz talks a lot about the paradox of choice – when you offer someone too many options, they struggle to make a decision. This is exactly what happened to me, I couldn’t decide so I reverted to type. The same is true of most shoppers in supermarkets.

We say we WANT choice and we WANT variety, but too much choice can actually make it more difficult to shop and making it difficult to shop will decrease purchase conversion.

There have been so many shopper studies conducted after a range reduction, where shoppers have claimed they had MORE choice, not less, despite there being less products on the shelf.

However, shoppers are also more demanding than ever, wanting to meet more needs through the categories they buy into. Offering shoppers indulgence, health, premiumness and value, often means having a wide product portfolio, so how do we strike the right balance between TOO MUCH choice and NOT ENOUGH?

There will clearly be an ‘optimum range‘ and a plethora of research techniques that will define this. However, there are perhaps other fundamental shopper principles we can apply to make the shopping process SIMPLER, regardless of the range.


  1. Clear Segmentation

Greeting cards is a good example of this. This category has thousands of SKU’s. The only way of helping shoppers to make sense of it and narrow down their search is through clear segmentation. Looking for a card ‘for her’, ‘for him’ or for a certain age is relatively quick due to clear segmentation. Blocking products according to how shoppers navigate simplifies this process, even when the range is dense; allowing you to narrow down your choice into the right area at least. Most categories have some kind of segmentation – but is it based on how shoppers actually SEARCH? Or an out of date decision hierarchy which doesn’t really reflect the shopper navigation process? Understanding how your shoppers search will lead you to a clear and simple shopper-led segmentation.


  1. Clear Signage

Segmentation and Signage go hand in hand – but signage is even more important in a category like greeting cards, where the products alone are not enough of a signpost to get you to the right segment. But the signage itself needs to be simple, in the line of sight of the shopper. Ensuring you understand the language shoppers use to define those segments will ensure you make signposting shopper-led, which will speed up the navigation process.


  1. Clear Messaging

With so much choice, you need to give shoppers a clear reason to buy your product at shelf. The easier a product message is to decode, the quicker it will resonate with shoppers and lead to a sale. Communicate benefits, not features to HELP shoppers. If your product contains added protein, what benefit will that provide to the shopper? Understand WHAT drives people to buy, and clearly communicate these messages on pack to help make choice easier. But make sure the message is SHORT and PUNCHY – the quicker your category is shopped, the shorter and punchier your message needs to be. Too many words will confuse further, and will make the decision process even more difficult.

In summary, managing the dichotomy of choice vs. simplicity is a challenge. However, implementing a shopper-led segmentation and communication strategy will ensure we make this choice process simpler and easier for shoppers, regardless of the range available.

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