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More Options, More Problems: How Marketers Can Tackle Consumer Choice Overload

Feeling more indecisive than ever? It’s hardly surprising in today’s overwhelming world of near-infinite options that can easily drain our decision-making capabilities.

While choice, on the surface, is deemed a good thing, it turns out that it can, in fact, do more harm than good, particularly in the world of marketing and sales.

So, in this post, we’re delving into the hot topic of ‘choice overload’. Read on to discover exactly what it is, how it happens, and its effects on marketing, along with the clever marcomms solutions we suggest to keep consumers locked in rather than checking out.

What Is Choice Overload

Choice overload describes how, when given multiple options, people often find it more challenging to make a decision. It can also cause people to be less satisfied with their choice and experience a heightened sense of regret.

Symptoms include confusion, apprehension, anxiety, and indecision that occurs when faced with a plethora of possibilities, whether it be a menial or life-changing decision that needs to be made.

The term ‘choice overload’ was initially coined by the American writer Alvin Toffler, in his 1970 book Future Shock, which discussed how people struggled with “too much change in too short a period of time”.

Fast forward a few decades, and psychologists began to explore the subject in greater depth with Sheena Iyengar’s well-known jam study backing up the theory that the more choices we have, the more challenging it becomes to make a decision.

Writer Barry Schwartz also researched the topic in the early 2000s. In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, he famously referred to the inability to make a decision when given an abundance of choice as ‘analysis paralysis'.

Why Does It Happen

As highlighted in this previous blog post, humans have limited cognitive resources, meaning we can only compute so much information at a time.

So, the more options we have to consider, the quicker we use up that limited energy. This triggers feelings of confusion, overwhelm, and fatigue, which we remedy by switching off altogether in an attempt to preserve those precious energy supplies.

This is said to be down to a scientific aspect of how the brain functions when onboarding information. It doesn’t just let it all flood in but has a clever ‘gateway’ known as "cellular thinking nerves" that help the brain decide what to soak up and what to discard.

Known in simple terms as ‘selective attention’ or ‘selective hearing’, it’s the brain’s way of only paying attention to what’s of interest and shutting out the rest of the noise.

It stands to reason, then, that the more information our brains are presented with, the quicker they go into ‘shut down’ mode leaving us unable to process all possibilities and make a definitive decision.

The Effects Of Choice Overload On Marketing

In a world where we’re constantly bombarded with ads, emails, and promotional products, it’s easy to understand how a consumer can experience choice overload. And that, of course, can impact a brand’s marketing efforts. Here are some examples of the consequences it can have:

Consumers Buy Less

When consumers feel flooded by prospects, there’s a tendency for them to cut and run. So, pack too much choice into your marcomms, and rather than investing a whole lot of energy in exploring the options, consumers are likely to surface shop. This might mean making ill-thought-out decisions or just getting the ‘essentials’ and then checking out before it all gets too much. If feeling swamped, an individual might also put off making a decision until a later date, at which point they’ve talked themselves out of a particular purchase or found the initial desire for a product has worn off.

Consumers Regret Their Decision

As previously mentioned, being spoiled for choice can lead consumers to make hasty decisions that they later come to regret. An obvious example we can all relate to is being torn for choice when faced with a restaurant menu and making a flippant on-the-spot decision when the waiter arrives. Then, when your dish is served, so is the disappointment as you question your choice, or worse, envy the decisions of your fellow diners. In the realms of marketing and sales, this consumer regret can lead to increased returns, decreased customer loyalty and even poor customer reviews, which could impact your reputation.

Consumers Don’t Make a Purchase At All

In the worst-case scenario, the amount of choice presented could trigger such levels of anxiety that the consumer avoids the perceived danger of making ‘the wrong decision’ by making no decision at all. And the consequences here are pretty obvious. Not only do your marketing efforts go to waste, but your ROI will be down, and a golden opportunity to spark and build a relationship (never mind, make a sale) with a consumer is lost.

Solutions To Avoid The Overwhelm

So, what’s the answer to avoiding choice overload? Well, it’s not necessarily a case of scaling back the marketing but making sure that it’s delivered in the right way. Furthermore, you want to strike that magical balance between options and overwhelm.

In these times, consumers have come to believe that there’s always a better choice out there. So, you need to cleverly communicate why your offering is not just the best but the best for them as an individual. For example, demonstrating how it aligns with and answers their desires and needs and making your marcomms personal so they know the information is worth investing in.

Here are some of the solutions we provide to help perfectly streamline and personalise print marcomms with variable content that sings to the consumer and silences the noise.

Print On Point Brochures

Rather than inundating audiences with bulky, generic brochures, our Print On Point offering delivers personalised propositions directly to consumers’ fingertips. How? By inviting them to compile their very own brochure on your website containing purely what they're interested in. We then personalise it, print it, and wing it directly to their doorstep. This not only avoids the dreaded choice overload, but by capturing their details and data online, you’ve got all the golden info needed for perfectly tailored follow-ups.

Data-Driven Marcomms

With both data-geek and print-pro strings to our bow, we can help track consumers’ online behaviours and then target them with personalised print communications that will hold their gaze (and weaken their knees!) at prime purchasing times. Think abandoned basket promotions landing on a consumer’s doorstep the day after they’ve exited your website, a customised brochure of personal product picks arriving in subscribers’ hands when payday is due, or a grocery discount campaign based on a customer’s previous purchases entering the household just in time for the weekly shop. Zeroing in on what you know appeals, narrows the choices, and flips consumers’ perception from feeling bombarded to ‘thought of’.

Linking Up On & Offline Worlds

In a previous blog post, we highlighted numerous reasons why digital and print are The Ultimate Marketing BFFs, and how taking an omnichannel marcomms approach can help avoid consumers feeling swamped. We detailed how print can act as a ‘breath of fresh air’ in grabbing an audience’s attention and delivering a message directly to their hands. But also how print can work in tandem with digital by using QR codes to drive traffic to specific landing pages where valuable data can be gathered and notable growth gained. Think personalised product shopping pages, one-off promotional codes, early sale access, and what-product/service-is-right-for-you style quizzes and funnels.

The success of all these sophisticated solutions comes down to being perfectly timed, refined, and personalised. It’s all about breaking through the brain’s ‘information gateway’ by nailing that one-to-one consumer experience with engaging, relevant, and tailored propositions.

Ready to ditch the overload and undertake a fresh marcomms approach? Then chat to our data-obsessed print experts today by calling 0114 272 8888 or emailing for more information.