The paradox of choice

Ecolean Shopper Marketing Insights The scholar Barry Swartz wrote a very interesting book about the paradox of choice (2004). Dr. Swartz notes that “A large array of options may discourage consumers because it forces an increase in the effort that goes into making a decision”. Therefore, the consumer decides to not decide and does not buy the product if the choices are too many. 

Putting this into the context of FMCG, a retailer begins inventory choices from more than a million individual items in various supplier warehouses. From these, something like 30,000 to 40,000 SKUs are selected to offer shoppers in a hypermarket. However, an individual household purchases only 150–200 different items in an entire year (Sorenson, 2009). And only half of those are purchased regularly, month in and month out, throughout the year. 

If these shopper purchases are reduced to individual shopping trips, the picture becomes even more complex. Half of all shopping trips result in five or fewer items purchased. The fact is that one single item is the most common purchase, as seen in the transaction logs of major retailers around the world (Sorensen, 2010). 

As shoppers, we feel angst and confusion about all those choices that we have to make in-store. Shopper Marketing is about helping the shopper to reduce the angst of choosing.


The Shopper Marketing article series from Ecolean shares interesting shopper insights from the FMCG world. We also share some tips on how to leverage packaging in the in-store battle.