More Is Less: Too Many Choices, Too Little Satisfaction

Earlier this year, we discussed the benefits of simplification to fight decision fatigue: a relatively new diagnosis for the mental torment one feels when faced with an overabundance of options.

Sheena Iyengar delivered a fascinating TED Talk in 2011 called The Art of Choosing – based on her book of the same name – in which she discussed how choice overload affects us even in very consequential decisions, and that "we choose not to choose, even when it goes against our best self interest."

While the "individualistic" consumer trend has spawned new, niche products and promoted healthy business competition (i.e. good old-fashioned capitalism), it has wrongly encouraged big companies to increase their already robust offerings, thus stifling purchase decision-making.

Marketers should adopt the "less is more" mentality so as not to frustrate their customers who feel the exact opposite: more is less. As Iyengar writes in her book: "More choice leads to less satisfaction or fulfillment or happiness."

There are three negative consequences to offering people more and more choice:

  1. Reduction in Engagement –– more likely to delay or procrastinate making decisions.
  2. Decision Quality –– more likely to make worse decisions (medical, financial, etc.)
  3. Satisfaction –– more likely to choose things that make them less satisfied.

As mentioned in our previous post about decision fatigue, many successful leaders wear the same thing every day, which saves their brain power for bigger, more important decisions that require more thought, and frees them of having to ruminate over something so insignificant, by comparison.

As one of the world's leading expert on choice, she offers the 4 C's as a solution to this problem:

  1. Cut: It should come as no surprise that when Procter & Gamble decided to cut their Head & Shoulders SKUs from 26 to 15, their sales went up 10%.
  2. Concretize: Brands should help consumers feel the full weight of their decisions in a meaningful and concrete way, which helps them to not only make better choices, but to also be happier with those choices.
  3. Categorization: Simplify a consumer's decision-making process through categorizing the many products that your brand offers –– people feel like they're given more choice if the number of categories is shorter, not longer.
  4. Conditioned for Complexity: Start small and gradually increase decision-making complexity to help your customer mentally prepare for more and more choices –– they'll eventually grow accustomed to later, more intricate decision-making.