Why consumers want simplicity

The paradox of choice is real and research shows that brands can benefit from simplifying

3 min readDec 3, 2018
Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

We tend to think more choice is better, but while variety is good for us, too many options can make day-to-day consumer decisions more challenging. Psychologists call this the paradox of choice.

In his book of the same name, psychologist Barry Schwartz argues an excess of choice has not made consumers happier, but more dissatisfied. Not only has it made them less satisfied, but it often results in ‘choice paralysis’. Schwartz cites a famous study published in 2000 that found people were 10 times more likely to purchase a jar of jam from an in-store display when the number of varieties was reduced from 24 to six. Other studies, he claims, have also confirmed that less is often more.

These ideas challenge certain assumptions psychology and business previously made about choice, human nature and well-being — assumptions that overlooked the time and effort required by round-the-clock decision-making, as well as the potential for anxiety and regret. The relationship between choice and satisfaction appears to be more complicated, in fact. People want variety, but they also want certainty — and simplicity is the key to delivering both.

Consumers today are overwhelmed, and brands that serve a very clear need and offer simple experiences stand a better chance of succeeding. According to research from design consultancy Siegel+Gale’s 2017 Global Brand Simplicity Index, brands that embrace simplicity tend to enjoy increased revenue, brand advocacy and engagement.

Based on the views of 14,000 consumers from the US, the UK, Germany, Sweden, China, India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Japan, this research reveals that 62% of consumers will pay more for a simple experience, while 61% would recommend a brand if it has a clear proposition that saves them time. Simplicity, in these terms, refers to the entire customer experience and can mean anything from providing concise product information, intuitive website navigation or a quick and easy transaction process.

Supermarket chain Aldi topped the Index for four years running thanks to its small product ranges and straightforward proposition. By offering a streamlined shopping experience that meets consumers’ needs without confusing them, the brand shows an important degree of empathy for its customers and their time.

‘In this ever-evolving world with the time pressures we’re all under, we don’t believe that customers want to have to choose between multiple varieties of olive oil, for example,’ Adam Zavalis, Aldi’s head of marketing and buying for the UK and Ireland, told Marketing Week. Instead, Aldi simplifies decision-making for its customers.

Simplicity doesn’t always mean offering less, but it does mean making what’s on offer easier to access, as well as understand. Research carried out by Corporate Executive Board (now Gartner) found that ‘decision simplicity’ was the single biggest factor in making consumers ‘sticky’. More than 7,000 consumers were asked questions about their attitudes and purchasing experiences across a variety of price points and product categories. The results showed that brands that make the path to purchase simple were significantly more likely to be purchased, repurchased and recommended to others.

It’s not just retail that benefits from simplifying. Great brands and businesses of all kinds make life simpler by providing what consumers want, when they want it. Across sectors, every successful disruptor today begins with the aim of creating a simple solution to a complex problem, whether it offers a product or a service. Often this comes back to a single, uncomplicated proposition. By streamlining and reducing choices and unnecessary steps, it becomes possible to deliver the maximum amount of value with minimum complexity.

Further reading

The Principles of Brand Simplicity

2018 Simplicity Index