This week we unpack how a drive for more choice could be driving us mad, and search for answers to customer happiness in the principles of Minimalism.

Choose less choice

Why giving customers fewer options could make them more satisfied.

Alister McCann


Learning Organisation

4 minute read

Whether we’re buying shoes online, deciding what to order on UberEats, or swiping through a plethora of Tinder profiles, never in human history have we all had so much choice.

Many argue that this abundance of options is a good thing. But is it? Or, is being spoiled for choice actually spoiling our ability to be happy?
In short
  • Customers today are inundated with product options at every turn.
  • We all think we want more choice but are scientifically less happy when we get it.
  • Minimalism is a trend increasingly informing our lifestyle choices and interactions.
It’s a question that acclaimed behavioural economist, Professor Dan Ariely explores in a 2018 London Reel interview.1 Here Ariely describes an experiment where a group of students participated in a photography course. At the end of semester, the students were divided into two groups. Group One could choose one photograph they had taken to be enlarged, framed and delivered to them. But their choice was final. Group Two could do the same, except these students were allowed to change their minds about which shot they wanted – even after they had received a framed photo.

Once both groups had finally decided on their photos, the academics measured how happy each group was with their choices. It turned out the students in Group Two, who had more choice, were actually less happy with their pictures. While the students in Group One, whose choice had been restricted, were much happier overall.
Overload of options
Ariely explains that the psychological reason for this is the human mind doesn’t cope well when presented with a lot of choice.1 In fact, it’s detrimental to our wellbeing. When we have an abundance of options, we are far less likely to be happy with the choice we eventually make. Why? We tend to get caught in the mental trap of ruminating over that choice; we can’t help but think that we missed out on something better. We’ve all experienced this. Have you ever ordered a meal only to immediately regret your decision when you compare your meal with everyone else’s?

“The human mind doesn’t cope well when presented with a lot of choice. In fact, it’s detrimental to our wellbeing.”

Happy can be a one-stop shop
So, what conclusions should we draw from this? The key thing to remember is that we all have an inherent bias that favours choice – it feels right to want more options, doesn’t it? But as Ariely’s research clearly shows, this bias often works against us in the long run. Asking our suppliers and partners for rounds and rounds of options might only guarantee that we won’t be happy with any of them. Equally, going the extra mile to give customers as many choices as possible (sounds smart, right?) could ironically mean that they value our effort less than if we’d just kept things simple. Remember, when it comes to choice, more is not always more.
A need for less
It would seem that there is a growing awareness that access to greater choice is diminishing our capacity for lasting happiness. And in response people are actively moving towards more minimalist lifestyles, as observed in the 2021 documentary The Minimalists: Less Is Now.2 You could argue that this is not just a passing trend but an act of self-preservation. And I believe we’ll see more people reacting this way in the years to come.

on negative space
A key principle in Minimalist design, negative space refers to what’s absent in an image, or, the ‘empty’ space around a subject. And when applied to the busyness of advertising, can prove particularly effective in directing attention and improving brand recall – with fewer seconds spent absorbing multiple elements in favour of one.
Black Friday fatigue
Coupled with a desire for brands to be more purpose-led, it seems that consumers are growing tired of Black Friday campaigns, especially after the overwhelming onslaught of lockdown sale promotions. So this week, the 52 Monday’s team looked to their own inboxes, evaluating how effective email marketing has been on them during the Black Friday frenzy.
  1. Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational (5 March 2018), London Reel TV.
  2. Matt D’Avella, Less is Now (Official Trailer) (date unknown), The Minimalists.

Written by Alister McCann, Edited by Tash Velkova & Tim Wood, 52 Words by Tash Velkova, Freeform by Paris Robinson-Hicks & Alice Heraud, Key Visual by Jaimii Jakab.

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CX Lavender acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.