Shopping – Too Many Choices!

We finally decided to paint some rooms and I wanted to paint all our trim white.  Off we went to the paint section of the hardware store and we were overwhelmed by the choices.  Who knew there are about forty different shades of white?  Some have pink undertones, some have grey undertones, there’s off-white, near white, and so on.  My husband finally wandered over to the power tools while I debated the merits of “Moon Rise,” “Swiss Coffee” and “Powdered Snow.”

Choice overload

I’ve never really liked shopping, but now I hate it.  Too many choices just complicate things.  Instead of trying something new, I go into mental overload and just end up with my tried and true.  I don’t think I’m the only one to do this.  I read that the flavour most often purchased in ice cream shops is plain old vanilla.

Grocery stores are getting bigger and bigger because they must carry every single one of the packaged, processed foods for their demanding customers. 

According to Consumer Reports, between 1975 and 2008, the number of products in the average supermarket grew from an average of about 9,000 to almost 47,000.

Did you know there are more than a dozen Oral-B toothbrushes, all with various tooth brushing benefits and methods? And all the other brands are just slightly different.

Next door is toothpaste – entire shelves and rows of choices. Do you want to reduce cavities, whiten your teeth, freshen your breath, control tartar, combat gingivitis, attack plaque?  What if you need help with all of that? Why are there 27 varieties of Crest?

Tell me what you want – what you really want

Shouldn’t a lot of options be good for customers? Isn’t that what consumers want? That’s what the manufacturers seem to think. They want to satisfy everyone’s tastes and needs so customers will be able to find just the right thing.

If fact, although customers may be attracted to a large number of choices, when it comes to making a purchase, too many options can make decision-making difficult. When consumers do buy, they’re less satisfied with their selection.

Studies have confirmed that more choice is not always better. In fact, sales volumes actually decrease.

It all began with a famous jam experiment.  One day shoppers at an upscale food market saw a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam.  On another day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of jam were displayed.  The larger display attracted more interest than the smaller one.  But the people who saw the large display were only one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display. 

Choice overload is not limited to the supermarket. Looking at 24 varieties of gourmet jam is one thing, but it also applies to other areas – clothing, electronics, appliances (both large and small), TV streaming services, and have you seen all the different kinds of pens at the stationery store?  I need a little notepad to record the features of my choices as I drag myself from store to store.

Comparison shopping online is even more time consuming.  My brother showed me a shopping site and asked me which type of jeans he should get from about thirty-two pages of different brands each with twelve different types of fits.

But at least going online eliminates the wear and tear on my legs.

Related:  Do You Prefer Online Shopping or Going to a Store?

Less is more

This is one of the reasons I like shopping at smaller grocery stores like No Frills, or a warehouse store like Costco. Both carry a much narrower selection within categories.

It makes things less complicated because you only have two or three things to choose from.

When it comes to clothing and household items it may be easier to narrow your choices.  Decide on the options you want ahead of time so you won’t become tempted by features that would be useless to you.

The bottom line

I used to be able to complete my bi-weekly grocery shopping in less than an hour, and that was with two preschoolers in tow. Now it takes at least two hours before I push my overloaded cart – with the wonky wheel that just wants to go left – to the checkout.

It takes a lot of time to read all the labels for the best nutritional content and figure out the best price by the unit cost on groceries.  I almost need a spreadsheet to examine all the features, pros and cons of other products.

Often when people face a large range of possibilities, they are much less likely to actually buy.

Sometimes more is just too much.

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