Spoilt for Choice

I popped into Tesco yesterday to get the basics. I ended up spending 30 minutes deciding which type of bread to pick up after being completely overwhelmed with the options available; thick or thin? Brown or white? Cheapest or freshest??

We live in an era of plenty. Starbucks, for example, says it offers 87,000 different drink combinations. But are we starting to overcomplicate things? Are we too spoilt for choice?

Of course consumer choice should be a good thing, but we are increasingly experiencing an overwhelming sense of having so many options it’s difficult to actually make a decision.

Many marketers believe that innovation, competitive differentiation and personalised products arise from giving customers more choice. But I believe by offering more choice, marketers may actually end up increasing complexity, costs and causing customers mental fatigue.

Rather than acting as the ‘voice of the customer’, increasingly marketers and advertisers are creating in people’s minds, needs to which they haven’t the faintest idea. Although conventional wisdom would have us believe that shoppers prefer larger stores and larger assortments of products. As John Varcoe points out in his Everything Blog, recent academic research suggests differently, finding no positive relationship between assortment size and consumer satisfaction.

As a consumer in a free market, you might think you have unprecedented freedom, entitled by the ‘power’ of choice. But my experience in Tesco has made me think – it seems now we have no choice but to choose, and actually it’s all too much. I appreciate that the logic of our capitalist economy requires an expansion of existing consumption, but as a result, choice has now become the corollary necessity to the limitless extension of commodities available to us.

Although marketers and brands celebrate the choices available to us, I think that ultimately we will see a backlash against this, as consumers become riddled with exhaustion and the regret of making the ‘wrong’ choice everyday. When faced with too many options, consumers find it hard to make any decision, and so as I stood in Tesco yesterday morning paralysed by the proliferation of choice, I took the only choice left and chose to leave the shop.