How to Milk Decision Fatigue for All it's Worth

Consumers are becoming mentally exhausted by the constant choices they need to make. How can retailers make their customers’ lives simpler – while increasing loyalty?

There is increasing scientific evidence for the modern-day phenomenon of “decision fatigue”. Consumers feel overwhelmed by the ever-expanding range of choices they face for almost every buying decision. And it’s having an impact on our mental health. 

I realised this recently when shopping for milk at the local supermarket. As a child there was one variety of cow’s milk: you could have any milk you wanted as long as it was full cream. Now there are more than 20 varieties of cow’s milk on sale, not including other options such as almond milk and goat’s milk.

The point for retailers is to recognise the situations when offering consumers a restricted choice can make their lives simpler and create a deeper relationship that is hard for a competitor to break.

One such approach is the subscription model. It’s suitable when customers have highly predictable demand and are happy to be loyal to a particular retailer or service. Some recent innovators in this area have been online clothing subscription services, including established players such as Trunk Club and Stitch Fix  in the US, and Her Fashion Box in Australia, which just won a round of funding on the TV program Shark Tank.

There are other benefits to subscription models: they are often tied to home delivery, but one of the biggest advantages is the reduced need for customers to spend time making decisions about what to wear.

A slightly different situation is where consumers are loyal to a retailer or brand but demand is not predictable. A subscription model may not work here so the secret is to make it as simple as possible for the customer to reorder. A well-known innovation in this area is Amazon Dash, which allows customers to reorder branded products as they run low. Some appliance manufacturers are taking this a step further and building this capability directly into their products, for example Brita water filters. 

Reducing the number of decisions customers need to make doesn’t just make their lives simpler. It also integrates the retailer into customers’ lives so they become much more than just another product on the shelf. The key step for retailers is to spot the opportunities in their customers’ lives where choice has become a chore.