About overchoice in point of sale:
How to ease customer choice overload


Do you like waffles or shortbread? Chocolate or peanut butter biscuits, or rather healthy? Perrier, San Pellegrino or Spa, intensely or light sparkling? A last-minute holiday now? There's a sunshine all day on a hundred-and-one beaches! Can those who know what they are looking for quickly find their choice? Others don't always want to go on a treasure hunt, because they feel overloaded by the choice. On the problem of overchoice in physical shops and methods that make choice comfortable and intuitive for buyers.

1600 words
#retail #merchandising #choiceoverload

As consumers, and not only then, we make hundreds of decisions every day. Which neckline suits us best, a V-neck or a round neck? Which wine do we choose from the menu? Left to chocolate, right to chips or straight to the fresh department? What do we eat tonight? When faced with choice, we feel stress rising.

We expect our favourite shops to respond to the latest trends: healthy, eco, organic, vegan, gluten free, zero-waste, convenience, local, fair trade or, today not unimportant, the best price. Limited choice feels like we are sacrificing autonomy, control, or freedom. We are more assertive than ever, what we buy aligns with our values; social media platforms are the megaphones of our preferences, following each other rapidly.

Some hypermarkets sell hundreds of varieties of chocolate. With this shelf display, we have rearranged a wide range with a clear layout and information. Plus, the category stands out nicely with additional LED lighting! ©Pilotes

But the fear of choosing a wrong product (choice overload or paralysis) is turning choice into a curse. Excess of choice results in customer dissatisfaction, a feeling of discontent during and after making a choice. It may sound counterintuitive, but choice makes some of us unhappy. Among all the options competing for our preference, it is so difficult to choose that we hesitate, we postpone (or put off) a decision, or we regret.

An experiment conducted in 2000 in a Californian grocery shop showed that excess of choice result in lower buying intentions, fewer sales and less revenue. The psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper offered visitors a tasting along with a discount for an assortment of 24 exotic jams. The tasting event received a lot of attention, but only 3% of those interested bought. In a similar set-up with a selection of six flavours, 30% of tasters acted on the offer. And when the researchers surveyed the participants, the latter group proved on average more positive about the product (source).

This shop-in-shop for Balterio presents a range of 80 samples of laminate flooring, divided into three different modules to visually distinguish the segments and qualities. ©Pilotes

“An excess of input leads to angst, indecision, regret, and ultimately lowered satisfaction with both the purchase process and the products themselves.”
— Barry Schwartz, The Paradox Of Choice, Why More Is Less

Retail and brands can take initiatives to make decisions easier and more intuitive. We look at a few.

Before you move on

For more than 25 years, we have combined imagination and industrial know-how to help brands and retail present their offerings and strengthen their communication instore. On top of trends, we offer relevant and specific display solutions, always in multi-materials (wood, metal, plastics, etc.) We study a brand's context and its retail challenge, and consider technical, aesthetic, and budgetary constraints for 100% custom-made permanent furniture.

1. Reduce choice

For beauty retailer Ici Paris XL, we developed this display for the relaunch of its Only You nail polish private label. Thanks to the intuitive arrangement of the colours, each given a fun name, consumers can navigate through the range in seconds. And for those still doubting, a limited selection of five 'hot now' colours is presented in the centre of the presentation: quick and easy buying with confidence. ©Pilotes

The most efficient way to reduce excessive choice is to simply offer fewer options. For retail companies, range analysis is a constant exercise. The range shouldn’t be too wide, but neither should it be too narrow. It’s not easy to find the balance between what customers want and don't want anymore. It requires a thorough understanding of supply and demand, a constant conversation between retail and manufacturers.

(Related article > The planogram explained)

2. Engage in a conversation with the customer

Advice is one of the essential reasons for consumers to go to the shop, and shop associates play a crucial role in providing that advice. Since today consumers research their planned purchases online, they come in as experts. They expect associates to have in-depth knowledge of the products they sell and to be able to give them information and advice on which product best suits their needs. Without giving the impression that customers are giving up freedom, associates can help them make an informed buying decision and ensure they are satisfied. This is more about education than selling.

3. Take care of presentation, arrange and segment the choice, differentiate and inform

By arranging by colour an assortment of exceptional tea, a series of similar items is offered with an attractive presentation that customers will find hard to resist. Merchandising professionals call this method "colourblocking". ©Pilotes

In self-service shops, staff who can help visitors are less available. In a subtle game of seduction and conversation, shop fitting and shelving divide the buying scenario into areas and departments.

“The single biggest driver of stickiness, by far, is “decision simplicity”—the ease with which consumers can gather trustworthy information about a product and confidently and efficiently weigh their purchase options. What consumers want from marketers is, simply, simplicity.”
To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple.

Cluttered and disorganized presentations of similar items on shelves appear overwhelming, especially for those who are unfamiliar with the products. With the right presentation and organization, customers can easily compare different options. Therefore, merchandising professionals divide the offer into groups, and delineate assortments or overarching categories. Furthermore, shops can provide additional information on the shelves. Clear and concise labels, but also the use of colour and illustrations on profiles, banners, and cards can inform visitors on what is important to make the right choice.

All these efforts contribute to quick orientations and readability of the shelves. Shops help to reduce search time and ensure that customers reach a purchase decision with confidence, because the likelihood of a customer not buying anything increases with the time he or she spends searching.

(Related article > The merchandising materials to organize shop shelves)

4. Create impulses

Fisher-Price toys are highly varied and specially designed for the youngest. With this in-store choice funnel, attached to the shop shelf, customers find faster the most appropriate toys for each stage. ©Pilotes

Several customers simply do not want to put effort into a decision. Plus, they all wonderfully manage to filter information, consciously or negligently - according to a study on buying behaviour in an Italian supermarket, the average visitor to a biscuit department sees only 15% of the offer (source).

To make their journey easy, some customers are ready to wait for product recommendations. Discounts or specials ease the choice fatigue of price-sensitive customers. Extra visibility materials can unleash the power of a brand, such as a story that fans can remember. Quality presentations attract those interested in superior products, or convince others to upgrade. Novelties are put in front of those looking for something adventurous. Other impulses suggest a solution, or an occasion, rather than a product. The best shops ensure that there is something for everyone!

There are several initiatives brands can develop to help trigger impulses in shoppers, keeping them interested, curious and engaged. One possibility is the use of temporary or permanent in-store materials on the floor or the shelves. But consumers can also react negatively to an excess of impulses they have to decode. So, activations are OK provided they are well executed and do not confuse consumers. Furthermore, buyer behaviour is about much more than purely rational transactions. The experience around it is also important. As many purchases are decided on an emotional basis, it is essential to use materials that appeal to the heart and evoke emotions.

(Related article > Product activations: on the role of POS in the product marketing mix)

5. Use a choice funnel

This smart shelf, Cave à Whisky at Carrefour, is equipped with a touch terminal for a more complete customer experience. ©Pilotes

Choice stress is especially common among consumers who are less informed about different options, or if they are not exactly sure what they are looking for. With a choice funnel, a useful tool we know from online shelves, shops can better inform customers about what is available — and ultimately, what is best for them. A choice funnel consists of steps where customers are guided along different questions to define their needs and wants and identify the best option for them.

[CASE] For ranges of up to 100 whiskies in hypermarkets Carrefour, the liquor giant Moët Hennessy Diageo (MHD) asked us to conceive an interactive choice funnel that is fast, simple, and intuitive. With a personal, unique, and fun conversation about preference and need, a digital cellar master (a chatbot) guides the customer in less than 30 seconds. 'What is the occasion?' is among the options. To conclude the journey, the customer is shown the location of the product, along with a product page with engaging and valuable content about recipe, flavours, provenance, cocktail recipes ...


This 'smart' shelving was further rolled out after a survey: 86% of users feel better informed about the qualities and differences between brands (compared to 59% previously); 38% feel they get all the necessary information to buy with confidence (compared to 2% previously). Vertical segmentation, additional communication on shelf edges and colour coding further create a space that attracts consumers to shop from the range. The app's usage data provides instant insight into consumption trends.

Jan. 2023

Do you want to improve the appeal of your offer in shops? We are happy to help you develop your specific shelving and display, always adapted to your context and your brand. Contact us, today!

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