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Decision Overload: Consumers Want Fewer Options, Not More

In this post, we will explore:

•The general societal trend toward less complexity

•The result of what may be “peak consumer overload”

•How companies are (or are not) leveraging the trend

Too Many Choices

In prior years, it was always understood by consumers that more choices were inherently better than fewer choices. Now, however, we are living in a time when we must make dozens, if not hundreds, of daily choices. Humans are inundated with decisions in everyday life, from what routes to travel, to which restaurants to visit, to the hundreds of options for purchase available at the store. Even deciding which type of store (grocery, pharmacy, convenience store, etc.) to frequent comes with a layer of decision complexity, which may be based on price, location, time, or several other factors. Once home and wanting to relax, we are then faced with a myriad of choices on which streaming shows to watch next.

Ultimately, consumers are confronted with complex decisions even when pursuing leisure and entertainment. As an example, the Superbowl feed was available only on Paramount+ for cord-cutting customers (those without traditional cable or satellite TV service), one of many streaming media platforms people didn’t know how to access before the game. Wouldn’t it just be easier if there were fewer and simpler choices?

Making Simple Decisions Simpler

While consumers aren’t necessarily advocating directly for reduced options in the marketplace, the reality is that making so many decisions every day feels like work…because it is. Hence, the advent of curated media/content and the “one channel” concept. This is the social media industry’s answer to “peak consumer overload” (too many options) …and it’s working.

Think about platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. Instead of requiring consumers to choose from thousands of shows or channels like Netflix or traditional cable, viewers can simply watch “one channel”. This one-channel concept is curated with content that customers want and is based on our specific viewing preferences. Further, it just continues to run, endlessly queuing up the next item, without requiring us to decide what to choose or watch next. Sign me up for that!

Less is More

The truth is people are signing up for that…in droves. Platforms like TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram that leverage this “one channel” concept are taking significant market share away from more traditional forms of media and streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+, which offer a lot of fantastic content, but require the user to make a whole bunch of decisions on what to watch next.

Some might argue that this is all largely due to the trend of society becoming more dependent upon technology to make decisions for us, which is a valid concern. However, when it comes to entertainment, do we desire to make additional decisions? Or is less more? The organizational leaders that understand and leverage this trend will almost certainly become and remain the dominant players in their industry.

Reflection Points

  1. What other platforms (social media or otherwise) do you use that align with the “one channel” concept?
  2. How might businesses or marketing firms that aren’t currently using the curated or “single channel” style format catch up?
  3. In industries like high tech, streaming, and social media that compete narrowly for a similar customer base, what other strategies are you seeing companies use to attract users to their platform?

About the Author

Luke Williams is a Senior Lecturer and Competency-Based Education Program Coordinator at Central Washington University. Within the IT-Management (ITAM) Dept. at Central, he teaches business and technology classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. During the past 8 years, he has taught 27 different courses for 4 separate college and university programs. In addition to his many years of corporate experience in the private sector selling to organizations such as Microsoft and Amazon, Mr. Williams draws on his family history. He is the third generation of a family of real estate investors/entrepreneurs. Collectively, the family has remodeled over 150 residential and multi-family properties throughout the United States and recently sold a multimillion-dollar commercial real estate enterprise after three decades of ownership/operation. Mr. Williams’ studies included a semester abroad at the University of Oxford, UK, where he was taught by some of Britain’s top experts in computer science, foreign policy, and international business. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems and shortly thereafter completed an MBA degree from Azusa Pacific University in Southern California. Mr. Williams currently resides near the Seattle area with his wife and 3 children.

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