The paradox of choice – and why six jars of jam are better than 24

Posted on by Guy Cookson

Next time you pass by the dairy-free aisle in the supermarket take a moment to look at the options.

You might be there for a while.

Where once there might have been a couple of lonely cartons on the shelf, now the section is loaded with alternatives.

Brands including Alpro, Koko, Oatly, Provamel and Rude Health are all competing for attention.

Choose almond, hazelnut, oat, rice or soya in original, unsweetened, light, organic or countless other variants.

If you are interested in consumer habits this is a good place to people watch.

You will notice how often shoppers get flustered and seem to grab a carton at random – or just walk away empty handed.

“In behavioural science, we call this phenomenon ‘the paradox of choice,'” explains Dan Ariely.

“While many people report that they like having more choices, having too many choices can end up making it impossible to make a decision at all.”

There are plenty of good reasons to offer consumers a multitude of choices.

“The more options there are, the more likely you are to find a product with the right combination of attributes to suit your taste and budget,” explains retail analyst Nicholas Blair.

“Choice also encourages innovation and experimentation. Ultimately until you try something, you don’t know if you’re going to like it.”

But research has shown that too much choice can cause stress and decision paralysis.

Just try choosing something to watch on Netflix when you are tired to experience this for yourself.

One well-known study from 2000 found that consumers were much more likely to buy a jar of jam when given a choice of six to choose from, rather than a choice of 24.

Brands are increasingly seeking to solve the paradox of choice by steering consumers towards curated environments that are personalised to their needs.

Amazon is amazing if you know exactly what you want, but it is pretty terrible for discovering something new.

This is why boutique stores with limited selections that are micro targeted to niche audiences are a growing trend in e-commerce and on the high street.

A version of this article was published as part of a weekly column on marketing, design, trends and strategy in the Lancaster Guardian, Blackpool Gazette and Lancashire Post.

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This entry was posted in Behavioural Design, Design, Design Psychology, Food and Drink, Marketing, Strategy, Trends and tagged , , , , , on by .

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