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A couple of days ago, I had sent my little (17 year old) sister to Boots to get our mum a birthday gift. I told her to get anything that she thought mum would like. A couple of hours later when I came home, she was sat on the sofa, gift-less. “Oseye, I have something to tell you,” she said. “I didn’t find anything because there was too much to choose from”. If you think about how beauty stores are designed, there is in fact a lot of choice. Choice is more abundant than it has ever been. Later on that day we had settled on getting mum a nail polish. She likes pink, but which shade of pink do we decide to get? Boatloads of Love? Stretch Your Wings? Spring Awakening? Sew Gifted? Spaghetti Strap? Eternal Optimist? It reminds me of ordering at a restaurant… or even dating for that matter… “Hello, can I get the uhhhhh…”

I’d like to talk about the psychology of choice and what our endless options mean for us.

In a health and beauty store | If I make this picture black and white, this may explain why it’s so hard to choose a shade of nail polish.

What motivates consumers to buy?

According to Chernev et al. (2015), there are four key factors that motivate consumers to purchase goods: 1) When people want to make a quick and simple choice; 2) when the product is complex; 3) when it’s difficult to compare alternatives; and 4) when consumers don’t have preferences.

She likes pink, but which shade of pink do we decide to get? boatloads of love? stretch your wings? spring awakening? sew gifted? spaghetti strap? eternal optimist?

Excessive choice makes us feel overwhelmed.

Excessive choice is termed choice overload. The choice overload hypothesis states that an increase in the number of options we have to choose from may lead to negative consequences, i.e., a decrease in motivation to make a choice, and a decrease in satisfaction when finally choosing an option (Scheibehenne et al., 2010). Iyengar and Lepper (2000) carried out a study using an assortment of jams. In a food market, the researchers set up a table displaying 24 attractive and high quality jams. After that, the researchers only placed 6 of the jams on display, limiting the choice of shoppers. Try and guess what display experienced more purchases. The researchers found that although shoppers were more interested in looking around the 24 jams, they were more likely to make a purchase from the display of 6 jams (up to ten times more). This indicates that shoppers are more likely to make a purchase if they have less to choose from (Iyengar & Lepper, 2000). What is more, the larger display of jams led to lower customer satisfaction than the smaller display. What’s your favourite jam flavour? Mine is strawberry.

Shoppers are more likely to make a purchase if they have less to choose from.

The rejection mindset.

Endless choice can also have a negative impact on online dating. According to Pronk and Denissen (2020), the more dating profiles people see, the more likely they are to reject them.

Brands have a large impact.

Misuraca et al. (2019) found that choice overload only appears in the absence of brand names, and disappears when all options present are brand names. Participants expressed more positive feelings such as higher satisfaction and higher enjoyment towards familiar brands, rather than unfamiliar brands, or no brand. Familiar brands were also associated with lower perceived task difficulty and decreased regret. This research implies that consumers prefer branded items when making a choice.

Later on, Misuraca et al. (2021) wanted to see if these results were similar among adolescents. The researchers found that choice overload disappeared among adolescents when facing either a large or a small amount of brand name options. However, when no brand names were present, adolescents reported choice overload (greater dissatisfaction and regret with larger assortments). Misuraca and colleagues suggest that current recommendations for displaying a smaller assortment of choice may not be as effective as it is thought to be.

Choice deprivation vs. overload.

Choice deprivation refers to when we have less choice than desired, and is the opposite to choice overload. Reutskaja et al. (2022) studied choice deprivation and overload across different countries; collectivistic (prioritises groups) and individualistic (prioritises individuals). The researchers found that choice deprivation was more likely to be experienced in collectivistic countries such as Brazil and India, and less so in Japan, China, and Russia. The USA, an individualistic country, was however associated with choice overload more than choice deprivation. The findings of this study indicate that choice deprivation has a larger negative impact than choice overload on choice satisfaction. Participants reported that they preferred having an ideal amount of choice; not too much, and not too little, therefore the researchers suggest that marketers should focus on displaying the right amount of choice to consumers rather than too much (e.g., websites should show a set amount of products and consumers can be given the option to see less or more if they want). What is more, the researchers state that there should be great efforts made on lessening deprivation for those who live in scarcity.

Participants reported that they preferred having an ideal amount of choice; not too much, and not too little.

The eyes tell no lies.

It is likely that in the future, that more and more studies concerning choice may implement eye-tracking technology. Eye-tracking is a common procedure in marketing and retail research because it can measure a consumer’s attention. Eye-tracking technology can tell researchers where a participant’s attention is drawn to, how long they look at objects for, and how many times they look at an object (Bialkova et al., 2020). What is more, eye –tracking technology can be used in both the lab and in the field (i.e., stores, supermarkets, desktops, mobile phones, etc.), and it is non-invasive.

Fast fashion choice overload.

Fast fashion stores offer a lot of clothing. A lot. Due to this, Hwang et al. (2020) propose that there needs to be research carried out on what factors can decrease choice overload in fast fashion stores. Although consumers enjoy having options to explore, efforts should be made towards improving store layouts to help consumers navigate themselves around the abundance of products, and in order for consumers to not have to think too hard.

We ended up taking mum shopping on her birthday.


Bialkova, S., Grunert, K.G., & van Trijp, H.C. (2020). From desktop to supermarket shelf: Eye-tracking exploration on consumer attention and choice. Food Quality and Preference, 81.

Chernev, A., Böckenholt, U., & Goodman, J. K. (2015). Choice overload: A conceptual review and meta-analysis. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 25, 333-358.

Hwang, J., Tung, T. & Cho, H. (2020). Too Many Choices? Consumer Behavior in Fast Fashion Stores. International Textile and Apparel Association Annual Conference Proceedings, 77(1).

Iyengar, S. S. & Lepper, M. R. (2000). When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(6), 995-1006.

Misuraca, R., Ceresia, F., Teuscher, U., & Faraci, P. (2019). The Role of the Brand on Choice Overload. Mind & Society: Cognitive Studies in Economics and Social Sciences, 18(1), 57-76.

Misuraca, R., Ceresia, F., Nixon, A.E., & Scaffidi Abbate, C. (2021). "When is more really more? The effect of brands on choice overload in adolescents". Journal of Consumer Marketing, 38(2), 168-177.

Pronk, T. M. & Denissen, J. J. A. (2020). A Rejection Mind-Set: Choice Overload in Online Dating. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 11(3), 388-396.

Reutskaja, E., Cheek, N. N., Iyengar, S., & Schwartz, B. (2022). Choice Deprivation, Choice Overload, and Satisfaction with Choices Across Six Nations. Journal of International Marketing, 1-17.

Scheibehenne, B., Greifeneder, R., & Todd, P. M. (2010). Can There Ever Be Too Many Options? A Meta-Analytic Review of Choice Overload. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(3), 409-425,


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