Earlier in the year, we discussed on the blog our view that our abundance theme was set to be a major trend this year, challenging companies’ ability to maintain their pricing power and competitive advantage.
But what does abundance mean for consumers? A much easier life, or a baffling array of options?
While the pricing pressure resulting from a world of abundance is a positive for the users of the goods and services concerned, the huge range of products on offer can be overwhelming.
The findings from an interesting academic study using gourmet jam could help address the issue.
In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper conducted a now well-known trial that challenged the traditional idea that you can never have too much choice.
In the first part of the experiment, shoppers at a high-end grocery store were presented with 24 varieties of luxury jam to sample, and in return they would receive a coupon for $1 off any jam. In the second part, just 6 varieties of jam were on offer.
The display with the highest number of jam flavours attracted more interest than the one with fewer varieties, with 60% of customers stopping at the booth versus 40% for the smaller selection. However, when it came to purchasing, just 3% of people who saw the large display bought a product, versus 30% for the more limited range.
The conclusions were striking; contrary to the common assumption of ‘the more choice the better’, excessive choice could produce ‘choice paralysis’ in consumers. While, at first, an extensive array of options might appear desirable to the customer, it may sometimes undermine their motivation to purchase a product.
In other similar studies (this time involving types of chocolate and essay assignment options for students), Iyengar and Lepper also found that while choosers faced with an extensive choice might at first enjoy the choice-making process more, at the same time they also feel more pressure to make the correct choice – this can often result in frustration with the final choice-making process and dissatisfaction with their ultimate selection.
The dangers of what the two academics describe as ‘choice overload’ are obvious in the consumer goods industry. A simple search for air freshener on Tesco online offers a baffling 215 choices, while typing oven gloves into Amazon’s search bar reveals an even more perplexing 14,112 potential options.
So what can companies do to adjust to this landscape? I’ll give you a brief rundown of some of the more innovative examples I’ve come across recently:
- Brand companies experimenting with direct-to-consumer selling
Tobacco companies whose products might traditionally be purchased in far less glamorous locations are opening stylish, upmarket stores to sell new generation products straight to the consumer.
- Offering additional services
Retail firms are trying to tempt consumers off their computers and into stores with in-store coffee shops and manicures.
Companies are emphasising what their brand stands for and the unique features which differentiate them from the crowd. This could be quality and craftsmanship in apparel, heritage and luxury in high-end goods, or natural and organic in cosmetics.
- Digital and social media
Harnessing new media is helping retailers engage directly with consumers and stand out in a crowded space. Advertising campaigns are changing. It is no longer enough to just show off a product, and in some cases campaigns are becoming short, thought-provoking films. Meanwhile, some fashion retailers have launched their own social media platforms, on which customers can upload pictures of their purchases and show how they have ‘styled’ the clothes.
With funding costs so low, for those multinationals concerned they are missing out on a key trend it is often cheaper and less risky to buy a young, successful brand than develop one internally.
Brand owners are empowering consumers to customise their product by mixing and matching features, styles and colours, or by printing names, messages and photos on packaging.
 Source: Iyengar, Sheena and Lepper, Mark. When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2000. https://faculty.washington.edu/jdb/345/345%20Articles/Iyengar%20%26%20Lepper%20(2000).pdf