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Overcoming the Paradox of Consumer Choice

One of the factors that significantly affects the ability of a new product to succeed in a market is that of the paradox of consumer choice. This paradox comes about because although the target audience desires choice, when they are faced with so many alternatives as to become overwhelmed, they can actually be deterred from making a purchase.

This paradox happens all the time in the supermarket, just look at the toothpaste isle. Consumers will always face this paradox and marketers simply have to help them get around it long enough to make the sale.

In many categories, marketers are trimming their product lines to reduce this paradox of choice for consumers. Comedian Stephen Colbert was outraged recently that in 2008 there was 412 varieties of toothpaste available to American consumers. In 2011 that number plummeted to 352.

The Paradox of Choice Reduces in Toothpastes

The Paradox of Choice Reduces in Toothpastes

The most popular book written on this subject is that of Dr. Barry Schwartz, whose The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less has become an influential work in the minds of marketers for its insight into the way humans make decisions, especially in the free market.

After examining two studies, a jam-tasting and a chocolate-tasting, in which one test group was given a small number of options and the other group was given over twenty options, Schwarz discovered that the large number of options discouraged the groups from even making a decision as to which jam or chocolate to purchase.

Schwarz writes, “The effort that the decision requires detracts from the enjoyment derived from the results. Also a large array of options may diminish the attractiveness of what people actually choose.”

So, how do marketers deal with these two possible consequences of the paradox of consumer choice?

Well, first they should strive to make the decision-making process effortless and enjoyable. If the consumer has to do all the research to learn about the product on his or her own, then the decision to buy the product simply becomes another chore!

Think of recent product launches in a saturated market, such as the electronic gadgets industry, and look at how the more successful launches made the decision-making process enjoyable.

The way that Apple marketed the iPad as an entertainment device, rather than a personal computer speaks volumes about how smart Apple is when considering the ‘fun factor’ in consumer spending.

Even the act of shopping for an iPad is much more fun than that of shopping for a computer, mostly because of how Apple stores are set up to allow any potential customer to play with the product for as long as he or she desires.

Secondly, think of ways that marketers try to make their product one of few options in an over-saturated market.

Again, Apple’s marketing of the iPad is an excellent example of how a company tried to reduce the options that a consumer might have through clever marketing.

The iPad was marketed as a solution to all of the consumer’s media needs; this is obvious in the many commercials Apple ran that showed the iPad doing a wide variety of media tasks.

With Apple we see a marketing team successfully narrowing down the list of consumer options, thus trying to negate the effects of the paradox of consumer choice. Make sure you keep this paradox in mind for your next product launch.

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Categories: Advertising, Marketing Strategy, Psychology

Author:Chris Maloney

Chris is a multi-channel marketing strategist and one of Australia's most awarded young marketers.

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  1. Insightful Article on Consumer Choice | justcwebster - July 9, 2011

    […] Overcoming the Paradox of Consumer Choice […]

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