Consumer Motivation and The Paradox of Choice: Is The More Always The Merrier?

Consumers have become addicted to getting instant access to any kind of useful and relevant information to help them deal with overwhelming choice. Whether it’s a QR code, TripAdvisor, user groups or Tinder, there’s no shortage of data or opinions. “Experienced consumers are lusting after detailed information on where to get the best of the best, the cheapest of the cheapest, the first of the first, the healthiest of the healthiest, the coolest of the coolest, or how to become the smartest of the smartest. Instant information gratification is upon us” (

Even armed with copious amounts of information, limitless options might actually reduce motivation to buy -- hence, the "paradox of choice.” And, the more choices we have, the less satisfied we are with the ones we make. In the case of online dating, for instance, FOMO (fear of missing out) can lead either to failure to make matches or failure to commit to the matches you've made. (Barry Schwartz, “The Paradox of Choice”).

“You have to be Zen-like. You have to let go of the need to know everything completely.”


Shopping for Stuff

Sears recently kicked off a campaign that takes jabs at the do-it-yourself trend and aims to spotlight more of the retailer's home improvement services. The new campaign highlights "truths" about shopping for home appliances, which are infrequent and pricey buys that require a lot of research. The first ad, called "Cavernous," slights other retailers for overwhelming customers with massive warehouses of inventory. In the spot, a couple struggles to find help as they shop for appliances at a home improvement retailer that resembles a Lowe's or Home Depot store. The message: don’t go it alone.

In “Dinner Party,” two couples discuss their hunts for new washers and dryers. They clearly have done their homework, but they forget which features go with which machines. In a third spot, “Username,” a couple is doing late-night Internet searches, pouring over consumer reviews, debating which random reviewer is more knowledgeable and trustworthy.

Granted, laying out hundreds of dollars for products you’ll have for years does require forethought, but even products costing $5 or less can cause analysis paralysis. Crest’s website, for example, details 35 types of toothpaste. Although a consumer can sort them according to a few characteristics—“flavor experience,” “dentist inspired,” “fresh breath,” or “classic”—there’s little to help figure out which features are most important and which paste is the best choice. Stroll down any oral health aisle in a pharmacy and see consumers scratching their heads. Root canals take less time!

Shopping for People

According to Tinder, the average user spends 77 minutes a day on the site. We now spend more time on Tinder than we do on Instagram or Facebook. A 2009 study on online dating concluded that more search options triggered excessive searching, making it harder for people to screen out inferior options (walks on the beach) and hone in on what they really want (romps on a Harley).

"Sometimes I worry that the love of my life is on a different dating app. At what point do you stop swiping?"


So what does this mean to marketers?

A marketer should help consumers feel confident about their choices. Just providing more information doesn’t necessarily help. Instead, provide tools and services that allow them to identify and weigh the features that are most relevant to them.

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