In the expanding marketplace, an individual consumer faces a number of insurmountable problems in decision making. Since many mass-produced goods require complex processes of manufacture, consumers often do not have knowledge or time to make informed choices in order to avoid physiological and psychological dangers that accompany consumption of some commodities. According to Du Plessis (2011), ideally, consumer choices should be based on an intimate understanding of the goods that will achieve their desired ends. Wierenga (2008, p. 54) defines acquisition of this information as a kind of knowledge that is comparable to craft skills. For instance, a cook, who carefully prepares a sauce, knows which pans and ingredients are useful. However, in a mass market, nobody can have craft knowledge of more than a few products. Without craft knowledge, an individual choice equals to little more than a grand arbitrary experiment in matching goods with needs and wants (Bartels & Johnson 2015). Moreover, consumer society has brought endless assortment to the marketplace by introducing a vast array of different product and services, which further complicated consumer choice and behaviour. The aspect of globalization in enhancing the options is inevitable. This paper critically evaluates the concept of “consumer choice” and discusses whether a wider range of choice is bringing more customer satisfaction.
Consumer decision making process is complex and subject to both rational and irrational forces. According to Kimmel (2013, p. 112), a consumer today has access to a vast amount of information on the Internet about brands, products, and services. However, it is obvious that bad decisions are an integral part of the consumption process. Once in a while, consumers are dissatisfied with their choices, representing the unquestionable fact that most of the time they are “predictably irrational.” In line with Kimmel (2013), consumer decision making is not always easy or rational, and marketers have to develop successful marketing initiatives to help customers in making choices that will enable them to maximize their benefits and experience satisfaction with the purchases. Due to it, the term “choice” does not solely apply to the kind of product or brand the consumer buys (Du Plessis 2011). In fact, buyer starts confronting a choice when deciding whether to make a purchase or not.
From the economic point of view, consumer choice refers to the selection of a range of goods that maximize satisfaction or utility, while allowing the buyer to live within his or her budget constraint (Park & Jang 2013, p. 2). In most cases, the shopper makes a choice between more than just two kinds of goods. The consumer can choose between the same items such as, for example, food and clothing today and then again tomorrow. Apart from this economic perspective of consumer choice, today’s buyer faces a need to make a decision on purchasing a particular product of one type of goods. When a customer, for instance, walks down the row in a modern-day supermarket, he is confused with the choice of all sorts. According to Solomon et al. (2013), the customer is enticed with assortment at every turn. For instance, there are different types of jeans nowadays, such as bootlegged, straight, cropped, skinny, dark-washed, bleach-rinsed, low-rise and distressed among others. This expanded assortment is characteristic not only for the clothing sector, but it has also permeated all other industries, ranging from education and medicine, to the online social networking platform.
There is a number of benefits from the availability of choices, as they enable a customer to select something that suits his or her taste. According to Kimmel (2013, p. 113); and Luce, Bettman and Payne (2001), a typical consumer decision task involves a set of alternatives that are described according to attributes or consequences. Each set of alternatives or choices from which the consumer selects will be perceived as varying according to different characteristics such as price, durability, and colour among others. These attributes in turn will be evaluated in relation to a certain degree of quality, such as price or safety rather than material or colour. The availability of alternatives has been proven by a psychological research to be muchbetter than the lack of choice at all. According to Wierenga, when customers are provided with options, they experience an increase in their intrinsic motivation, task performance, life satisfaction, and perceived control (2008, p. 56). Additionally, customers tend to be attracted to vendors that offer more choices through a variety of products with a greater number of features (Wierenga 2008).
From the markets’ and producers’ perspective, providing a bigger range of goods, available to customers, is a better way to help clients to find a maximum satisfaction depending on their financial ability. The range of products differs in price, ingredients, taste, and other features with an intention to help a customer to choose the best option that matches his or her personality. According to Bartels and Johnson (2015), there is a belief among marketers, that the bigger is the choice they offer to a consumer, the more likely will the end-user find the right thing. Evidently, if there were no choices, the world would be dull and customers would not be satisfied, as they would not find the product, which meets those specific and unique needs they have. However, the fact that the availability of assortment is better does not always mean that more choice should be pursued. According to Schwartz (2004), there is a drawback connected with having choice overload, which is the customers’ deprivation of satisfaction introduced by the culture of abundance. Greater range of products leads to a “choice overload”, which results in a decreased motivation to choose among the goods and a decline in the satisfaction with the finally selected option (Park & Jang 2013; Kapeller, Schutz & Steineeberger 2012; Scheibehenne & Greifeneder 2010; Reutskaja & Hogarth 2009; Mick, Broniarczyk & Haidt 2004).
Recent research has revealed that too wide choice of products has, in fact, adverse effects on consumers. In other words, when people have an extensive opportunity to decide on a product, they may not eventually attain the potential benefit. This part of the recent studies suggests that choosing from a large number of alternatives can have negative effects that include increased regret, decreased product and life satisfaction, lower self-esteem, and less self-control (Kahn et al 2014, p. 294; Kapeller, Schutz & Steineeberger 2012, p. 40; Wierenga 2008, p. 56; Schwartz 2004). Schwartz (2004) specifically argues that bigger stock does not always result in gaining more control, as people tend to become unhappy about the choices they make, when they are faced with overwhelming options. The customer is often left with a disturbing feeling that he or she could have done better. Interestingly, this state of unhappiness about the choice may occur even if the consumer’s decision is objectively the best possible one.
According to Desmond (2003) when a consumer is provided with an excessive assortment, a “choice paralysis” often occurs, resulting in a reduction of satisfaction. Even though the choice is good for the consumer market, the way it relates to customers’ satisfaction seems more complicated than it is generally assumed. Scheibehenne and Greifeneder(2010) as well as Kapeller, Schutz, and Steineeberger(2012), observe that there is a diminishing marginal utility in having more choices. Each new option reduces a feeling of well-being up to the point when marginal benefits of the extra choice start to decrease. More offers also increase the time and efforts used in purchasing, leading to enhanced chances of regret, anxiety, high anticipations, and self-blame if the selected product fails to work. On the contrary, when the number of choices is less, these factors tend to be insignificant. However, they raise, as the number of options increases. Eventually, each new choice makes customers feel worse than they did before (Schwartz 2004).
The negative influence of the too big assortment on the consumer’s choice is further heightened by the psychology of trade-offs. According to Schwartz (2004) the psychology of trade-offs argues that a customer becomes unhappy and indecisive when he is forced to confront alternatives. Additionally, people may not always think first and decide second, so they are more likely to regret their decision if it is the result of their own choice rather than someonne else’s. Studies have observed that, when consumers are presented with a number of offers, for instance, a variety of retirement investment options or a variety of peanut butter, the number of customers or employees attracted to the options will definitely increase (Kapeller, Schutz & Steineeberger 2012). However, the chances of the employees choosing any of the retirement investment options or the number of customers buying the peanut butter will decrease.
One notable study that illustrates how wide choice affects customer’s satisfaction is the famous jam study carried out by Sheena and Lepper in 2000 (as quoted in Mick, Broniarczyk & Haidt 2004 p. 207-208). According to this study, shoppers in the upscale food market were exposed to a table display, containing 24 selections of gourmet jam. People who tasted the products were awarded with a $1 voucher for any jam. In a few days, shoppers were again exposed to another similar table, which contained only six variations of jam on a demonstration. The results showed that 60% of shoppers were attracted to the larger assortment of jam, while only 40% to the smaller one. However, 30% of the shoppers, who tasted the smaller range of choice, decided to purchase the jam, compared to only 3% of those who bought a jar after being confronted with two dozens of its types. This study formulated the hypothesis that the presence of choice can be theoretically attractive, however, in reality, people tend to find a bigger variety of goods debilitating (Mick, Broniarczyk & Haidt 2004).
Studies with conclusions similar to this example have not only established that excessive assortment produces “choice paralysis” but have also proved that it results in a dissatisfaction with the decisions made, even if they are objectively the best choices. These studies have used other commodities such as a variety of snacks, beers, and soft drinks among other products offered in different outlets. Their results showed that bigger choice decreases sales volumes and customer’s satisfaction. According to Solomon et al. (2013), the influence of increased choice on decreasing customer satisfaction is not only prevalent in trivial matters such as flavours of ice creams, but is also significant in weightier issues as, for example, jobs. According to Schwartz (2004), trade-offs and consumers’ choices imply that the automatic assumption that people will enjoy or appreciate a large number of options should not be followed, especially when they have to consider trade-offs of each choice. Perhaps, a smaller number of options with enough information available about each one, but not presented as a trade-off, can help consumers to make informed decisions and be satisfied with their outcomes.
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Clients would benefit more from fewer choices, having sufficient information about them, since more options do not result in their satisfaction. Business and psychology both used to operate on the premise that the correspondence between the customer choice and satisfaction is straightforward. The more alternatives consumers have, the more satisfaction they will receive. In psychology, the satisfaction from choice was connected to control and autonomy, while in business the benefit was linked to free markets. There was a supposition that a variety of products does not put buyers in a worse position, but vice versa brings them many advantages. However, it has never been the case, as customers benefit from smaller range of goods more.
Today’s expanding marketplace has exposed consumers to a number of insurmountable problems in their decision making process. There is an increasing access to information, which makes consumers to be more demanding for better services and goods. Apart from this, there is a tendency of increased choice and decreased customer satisfaction. There has always been an assumption that the greater the number of options is, the better it is for the consumer. Even though, theoretically, there is a part of truth in this belief in terms of increased freedom and variety, a bigger range of products tends to be more harmful to customers. When the customer is provided with more options, his decision making is hampered and in most cases he will end up not purchasing anything or regretting his decision, arguing that he could have done better.