Coronavirus sparked hordes of consumers to hoard products and move to drive-thru lanes. Brands are cutting back on product assortments. Once a cornucopia of choices, supermarkets now have limited assortments on their shelves. Menus at restaurants have been pared. Fewer options are now more than a trend: it is a way of life.

Over the years, according to The Wall Street Journal, choices for Americans, from soup (Campbell grew to 400 different kinds) to chips (Lay’s grew to 60 varieties). Until the pandemic, there were more than 605, 000 possible vehicle configurations! Just think of the confusing assortments in the toothbrush aisle or the granola bar aisle. We were the land of something for anyone and everyone.

Now, The Wall Street Journal points out, multiple businesses have focused on reducing assortments and supplying only their best sellers. This has helped manufacturers to be more efficient and effective. This will better prepare brand owners in case there is another phase of “stocking up” by consumers.

It is the great brand reset. In the near future, it is probably best not to expect all 10 varieties of Charmin toilet paper at your local grocery store. Do we really need all of these varieties? — Charmin Ultra Soft Mega, Charmin Ultra Soft Super Mega, Charmin Ultra Strong Regular Roll, Charmin Ultra Strong Mega, Charmin Ultra Strong Super Mega, Charmin Essentials Mega, Charmin Essentials Strong Mega, Charmin Ultra Gentle Mega, Charmin Forever Roll, and Charmin Flushable Wipes.

As for restaurants, chains such as Olive Garden, Outback, Wingstop, and McDonald’s have eliminated menu items making service faster and smoother by eliminating prep time and aiding quicker selection, shaving critical seconds off of wait time.

It looks like breakfast will no longer be available all day at McDonald’s. Taco Bell reduced its menu by eliminating Nachos Supreme, Spicy Potato Soft Taco, Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes, Spicy Tostada, and the 7-Layer Burrito. Panera Bread eliminated Tuscan Chicken Sandwich, Maple Bacon Scrambled Egg Wrap, and the Cheese Brittany. Subway reduced its menus by eliminating roast beef and rotisserie chicken options.

Limited choice was a hallmark of Steve Jobs. He was quoted as saying that limited choice is all about a manufacturer saying “no.” Limited choice was about focus. He saw that focusing on fewer, really fabulous products was the way forward.

From the customer side, not finding our desired brand or brand variety may be disappointing. But, limited choice helps us: limited choice helps to decrease decision-making time and effort, which is a plus when we want to get into and out of a store quickly. When there are too many offerings, we become overwhelmed. We take time and effort to scan all that is available to find that perfectitem or meal. Coronavirus has made lengthy consideration in the aisles a potential safety hazard: choosing has become simpler and faster. Having fewer varieties seems to be acceptable… even in an age of extreme personalization.

With home schooling, working from home, furloughs, and physical as well as mental exhaustion, the last thing we need is choice fatigue. Too many choices not only fatigue us but also sometimes can paralyze us into not being able to choose. Too many options can lead to reduced sales. Limited choice reduces choice paralysis.

How we deal with choices has been a well-discussed and well-researched topic since 1963 when J. A. Howard introduced an idea he called “evoked sets.” Think of this as your consideration set. All of this choice investigation points to the fact that we tend to make purchase decisions from a discrete group of brands that we will consider purchasing. The average number of brands in the consideration set is just three.

Worrying about making the wrong choice or a good enough choice is lessened when there are fewer options from which to choose. Being in the consideration set is a big competitive advantage.

Nobel Prize-winning research from 1956 demonstrated that too much choice leads us to make choices that are adequate rather than optimal. When there is too much choice we feel that we are on a hopeless quest. We become stymied, frustrated, and ill at ease. Our inherent desire to make simple, effortless choices in the face of too many options, forces us to make a merely adequate choice rather than the best choice.

Customers say they want more choice and more personalization. But, they also say they want choice to be simple. Making a decision should not require a lot of effort. The last thing we want now is to undergo additional effort when deciding on a brand. So, when it is time to buy something but your favorite option is not available, rather than frustration, think of this as a favor.

Footnote: J. A. Howard 1963 He recognized that consumers do not evaluate all possible brands of a product when making a purchase decision. Consumers establish a subset of available brands from which they make purchase decisions.

Forbes

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