Too many options can be overwhelming for some consumers
In 2016, then-presidential candidate and self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders complained that Americans have too many consumer choices.
“You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or 18 different pairs of sneakers when the kids are hungry in this country,” he said.
While most of those who believe in the free market system have scoffed at Sanders’ comments, research suggests that too many choices can have negative effects on consumers. Too many choices can lead to higher levels of anxiety and sadness.
It is clear that autonomy and freedom of choice are essential for psychological health. Choice is a basic tenant of autonomy and freedom. Today, American consumers have more choices than ever before in history.
Psychologist Barry Schwartz was one of the first to write about the dangers of too many options. He argued that reducing choices can reduce buyer anxiety and increase happiness. Experimental results show that consumers are more satisfied with the results of their choices when they have fewer options instead of more.
Schwartz says many consumers seek happiness in the products they purchase, but choices that don’t meet their needs or wants the way they hope can lead to depression and feelings of loneliness. The consumer may regret not having explored more choices before making the purchase.
Alan Ferris, professor of psychology at Mount Marty University, said there is an optimal number of choices for consumers when making a purchasing decision.
“With too little (of choice) people want more options, with too many people who can’t make up their minds,” he said.
A greater number of choices can also often cause consumers to think about the missed opportunities of choices left behind by the one who has been selected. This is especially a problem for people called “maximizers”. These are people who need to be sure that every purchase or decision was the best that could be made. The maximizer isn’t happy if, after making a purchase, they find out that they’ve missed a better product.
Studies suggest that consumers should adopt a “satisfied” attitude when it comes to making choices. These consumers are content with good enough choices. Satisfied people don’t spend more time and effort wondering if they picked the best option, like maximizers do. They envision fewer choices and focus on the positive aspects of the decisions they make.
One of the responses to having too many choices has been the development of the minimalism movement. This philosophy emphasizes that people are happy with what they have rather than what they want.
This minimalist philosophy goes against what anyone teaches in business, and especially in marketing. The idea in marketing is to determine the needs or wants of individual consumer market segments and to create products that meet the needs or wants of those consumers. So, the 23 underarm spray deodorants that Sanders complained about.
One of the ethical arguments of marketing and the multiple choices it produces is that it encourages consumption, which is good for the economy. Most economists say that about two-thirds of economic activity is driven by consumer demand.
The idea of limiting choices is not completely foreign to marketers. Many sales trainers suggest giving potential buyers a limited number of choices. The theory is that with too much choice, a potential customer will become confused and not buy anything.
“Marketers already know this,” added Ferris. “This is why new products try to differentiate themselves from other products already on the market. “
So, for reasons other than what he wanted, Bernie Sanders might have a point that consumers have too many choices.
Perry Haan is from Watertown. He is professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at Tiffin University in Ohio. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.