Overwhelmed Consumers: Choice and Technology

Consumers are not owls. We have a limited field of vision and can only take in so much at a time. When faced with overwhelming choice, we try to seek out a narrow band of what’s familiar. If we don’t find what we we’re looking for, we often shut down and move on. We are all overwhelmed consumers.

Innovators and entrepreneurs see opportunities within this limited field of vision. They fill it in with solutions that are meant to help curate that world of options so individuals can easily find what they’re most interested in. By doing so, they eliminate the problem of “overwhelming choice”.

When you apply this lens to eCommerce, most stores are only in the “overwhelming choice” stage. But the industry is about to enter the next phase, where content can be intelligently curated. To foreshadow what’s about to happen to retail, look at other industries that have come to the party much earlier:

The music industry:

When you could go down to the local record store (I know I am dating myself), there was always someone there who could help you sift through all the stacks and discover an album or two that you’d like.

As music went digital and itunes and other music purchasing services came online, the consumer needed help sorting through the suddenly enormous catalog. While the world of music choices was great in some ways, discovering something new that fit your tastes was like searching for a needle in a pile of needles. It was a lot of work for the consumer. What came out of this were an array of services to help you find the music you like and even at times eliminate the need to purchase the music outright. So now Pandora and Spotify (and some of their more recent offspring) help consumers find music they like without the workload of searching, listening and purchasing.

Movies and television shows:

When the choice at Blockbuster was limited, it was relatively easy to find what you wanted to watch. The store could only hold so many movies and most of the store’s walls were filled with new releases. If you wanted ideas for something older or less mainstream, you would ask an associate to help you in the store’s denser middle aisles.

Then movies went digital and Blockbuster died. Suddenly you could buy or rent almost anything at a click of a button – first directed toward your cable box, but later towards a smart TV or Roku. Once again, while the choice was great at first, the burden for consumers became overwhelming. We all wanted to take advantage of all the options, but our limited field of vision limited us and our Sunday nights were wasted away scrolling through endless “On-Demand menus”, trying to find something we’d actually want to watch. Then innovators like Netflix started to curate content directly to their individual subscribers with categories such as “Top Picks for Kurt”. It became less like a hunting mission as more relevant movies surfaced – old, new, mainstream, or otherwise – that are about you and what you’ve watched and liked.

Now let’s shift our view to eCommerce. eCommerce has evolved from its brick and mortar roots of a limited choice, to today’s digital stores that offer thousands of products and endless aisles. eCommerce sites have grown by making sure they offer anything and everything they can to their shoppers that would increase conversions, AOV and return visits.

But along the way this vast selection benefit has become a burden for site visitors. Selecting a pair of shoes, a t-shirt or even a frying pan can become a multi page shopping event that makes the consumer feel like they have been sent into the warehouse to find what they want. The data overload of customer reviews, colors and multiple pages, truly puts the work on the shoulders of the shopper. Their senses are overloaded, they have to remember what items they liked, the pages they were on, and they are more often than not having to swim through a huge host of products in which they have zero interest. Although the industry has started to evolve like music, television, and movies, not all of eCommerce has solved the limited field of vision problem for their consumers.

Shoppers need help. They need that next stage of intelligent curation that builds off of their interests, preferences and their intent. In short, it is time for true individual personalization to come to eCommerce.

In addition, the consumer is already engaged with so many digital services and apps that are more personalized – or at least work on their behalf – that they are seeing how technically deficient many eCommerce experiences are. My smartphone is very smart indeed. Especially when it comes to my field of vision. It updates my weather as soon as I land and gives me an immediate estimate for how long the cab ride will take from the airport to the hotel I’ve reserved. I get alerts that are relevant to me, such as flight delays, news, and appointment reminders (complete with when I have to leave to be on time). If I want to find a movie playing at a nearby theater, the time and location is within a touch of a button.

Compare all of this to the digital warehouse type shopping experience that most eCommerce sites are offering and you can see why the shopper is expecting and deserving a little more. It’s time for digital retailers and technology vendors to finally deliver intelligent shopping experience – within that limited field of vision – that line up with the individual’s intent and preferences.

Photo: Flickr / Jumilla

Kurt Heinemann
Kurt Heinemann

Kurt is Reflektion’s CMO. His resume includes CMO positions at Marketwired and Monetate. He’s also held senior executive positions at Priceline, Time Warner and Walker Digital Companies. Despite living in Yankees territory, Kurt is a die hard Tigers fan.