For years the mantra in retail, online and off, has been “the more consumer choice, the better”, but the aim of trying to please everyone and adding endless variety can have unintended consequences that negatively impact the brand.

For some brands, the antidote is to start offering less choice by cutting back on a previously huge gamut of colours and style tweaks, The Wall Street Journal reports. The aim is to make things simpler for customers, boost sales, and reduce end-of-season price cuts.

“The wider the assortment, the more confused the customer is,” Bed Bath & Beyond Chief Executive Mark Tritton told The Journal. “Customers want something that is digestible. They want retailers to edit down the choices.”

According to Sheena Iyengar, Columbia Business School professor and co-author of a 2000 study, “When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?”, decision paralysis can set in whatever a company is selling, be it clothes, financial products, or food.

For example, the study cited data that showed people actually bought more jam when they were offered fewer varieties, and the difference was dramatic – just 3% of shoppers shown 24 varieties made a purchase, compared to almost 30% who were confronted with a choice of just six.

The Journal points out that consumer brands such as Pepsi and Procter & Gamble have recently cut varieties of drinks, toilet paper, packaged foods and other products. This was mainly due to supply challenges during the pandemic, but The Journal reports that a number of companies now plan to make this simplification permanent.

The luxury brand Coach, for example, typically produced 1,000 handbags a season, but has now cut that number by half, Todd Kahn, the company’s president and CEO, said. The brand is highlighting the best-selling colours – which are black, brown and off-white – and cutting others. “We don’t need three types of red,” Kahn said.

The hope is that not only will this make choice easier for the consumer, but that promotional sales can be reduced. “You won’t have these odds and ends at the end of the season that you are forced to discount,” Kahn said.

The strategy is based on the old 80–20 rule, that 80% of sales are down to 20% of a brand’s products, Ms Iyengar pointed out.

But just cutting choice may be oversimplifying matters, Joel Bines, a managing director with consulting firm AlixPartners, told The Journal. Retailers need instead to work out what consumers want from them and then stand for that. “But it’s much easier to introduce the same item in 25 colours than to take a position on something,” he added.

Sourced from the Wall Street Journal; additional content by WARC staff