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Living in a world of too many options: Are we suffering from hyperchoice?

By 4th November 2019 No Comments
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Options are both a blessing and a curse. Marketers need to understand how choices affect customers’ purchasing decisions and behaviour. Spoon’s editor, Jessica Johansson, investigates hyperchoice. 

Here I go again, confused and stressed out in the supermarket.

What marmalade should I buy: blueberry, raspberry or – maybe mandarin orange? Then off to the meat department.

Hmm, should I grab a piece of local steak, Fairtrade or… is the organic beef better? In the dairy section there are seven different types of milk, and then I’m not even counting the plant-based ones…

Back home, I’m once again staring at the papers from my private insurance company. They want me to pick funds to invest in. But tonight, I use my time to choose tiles for my new bathroom instead. It just seems like an easier decision to make after a day of hard work.

I push my bad conscience about the economic stuff aside, and let myself sink into the bathroom catalogue.

There are just too many choices to make in life!

Been there yourself? According to the anthropologist Katarina Graffman, this phenomenon is called hyperchoice, and it’s a sign of our times.

‘We live in a time where the idea of the freedom of choice has become a kind of religion, and we’re constantly forced to shift from making small decisions to making bigger commitments with larger dimensions – every day, ‘ she says.

‘This can make us so tired that we are unable to prioritise between minor decisions and choices that are of real importance to our lives. Sometimes it might even feel like we become paralysed. Some philosophers even call it “the tyranny of choice”’.

For marketers, that can mean that more isn’t always better.

But isn’t the freedom of choice a great luxury?

Well, according to Katarina Graffman some research has shown that too many options can actually make us very unhappy, and even create a sense of dissatisfaction. It can cause anxiety, confusion, agony and even exhaustion.

Back in 2010, three researchers discussed hyperchoice in the article “Can There Ever Be Too Many Options? A Meta-Analytic Review of Choice Overload”. Studies referred to in the article show that a very wide range of choice may:

  • Reduce our tendency to choose.
  • Make us not commit to a choice at all.
  • Make us unhappy with our choice.
  • Increase the negative feelings in connection to choices, where feelings of disappointment and regret are especially common.

But we’re also living in an age of empowered consumers, since the choices they make can impact society. So, can communication be the key to facilitate good choices?

According to Katarina Graffman, it’s not that easy.

‘The last years, we have seen an enormous focus on sustainability. But there’s actually a growing gap between what people think they consume and what they actually do consume.’

‘It is a complex process for a consumer to determine if a company works sustainably or not. And it’s not enough with “green” communication’, says Graffman.

How can we avoid hyperchoice stress?

So, what’s the key to avoiding the hyperchoice stress and, at the same time, helping consumers make a choice that is good for them and the planet? Once again: it’s complex. Graffman says it depends on the customers’ situation and their level of knowledge connected to the choice.

Sometimes a person doesn’t want any options at all and prefers to get a good and trustworthy suggestion. When it comes to another situation – maybe loads of options are the best.

It’s important to really get to know your customers and their context.

‘Companies have an enormous potential to create positive change, but it has to involve real values, and not values that you stick onto your brand to create sales in the short term’, says Graffman.

‘To start off, you need to change your business model from eternal growth to start thinking about people’s real needs, in a post-fossil future.’

Food for thought from Katarina Graffman

  • Don’t overestimate your customer’s knowledge of what factors goes into making a sustainable choice. The problem is that many consumers have trouble assessing whether a company has a sustainable offer or not, even if the company communicates about its work within sustainability. It’s a complex process to examine sustainability!
  • Be obsessed with your clients, not with your competitors’ actions. By improving how you detect early signals of changed consumer behaviours, the easier it will be to predict the next wave of disruption.

If you want more marketing insights like this, the decision is easy:

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