Choosing When You’ve Too Many Choices

Skin care

My face was breaking out and I decided face wash would be worth splurging on.

Having recently moved to the skin care capital of the world, I reached a “treat yo self” moment after weeks of washing my face with a brown lump of soap a cousin made in school and showering with the Old Spice Swagger body wash and Suave men’s shampoo another cousin left at our grandma’s. Whether from the Seoul air or stress, my face was breaking out and I decided face wash would be worth splurging on.

Cute, inviting shops for domestic beauty products line the streets of the capital of Korea, a place known for its cosmetics. Since I wasn’t sure where to go in the sea of shopfronts, I made my way to the nearby Hyundai Department Store to explore many different brands at once.

My friend had high hopes that I would come back with Korean skin care tips and recommendations. Sorry Sarah … instead of checking out any of the products or asking my dermatologist and plastic surgeon cousins, I bought Kiehl’s, founded in New York City.

too many choices at hyundai department store

Too many choices

It turned out I wasn’t excited to explore the many, many options. I just wanted someone to tell me what to buy. And when I stepped onto the floor of beauty products at the department store, I felt instantly overwhelmed by the choices and made a beeline for the first name I recognized. You can learn more about this phenomenon from psychologist Barry Schwartz.

It turned out I wasn’t excited to explore the many, many options. I just wanted someone to tell me what to buy.

The sales representative, dressed in a white lab coat like a doctor, gave me a sit-down consultation and told me what products I needed after going through a paper survey. I bought the recommended facial cleanser, toner and facial cream and turned down the serum. It was a simple transaction and simple was what I wanted in the midst of too many choices.

Be a familiar stranger

I had already developed some trust for Kiehl’s with their natural- and scientific-looking products even though I had never purchased or used any of them myself, save for a hand cream I’d gotten as a gift that was great. I had all but forgotten it existed and did not set out to buy it, but because it was the first familiar brand I saw in an unfamiliar market I naturally gravitated toward it.

I felt a bit silly buying products imported from the city I just moved out of.

I felt a bit silly buying products imported from the city I just moved out of in a country where there are so many other fine options. But I was resolved to be happy with my purchase and resisted the temptation to look up how much less it would have cost me in the States to purchase the same Kiehl’s branded products.

I learned that I’m not such a smart consumer after all—or rather—I don’t care to be. There are enough complicated matters in my life already; I prefer to make shopping trips as easy on myself as possible.

Is there a lesson here?

I might suggest the following: Make your brand unequivocally clear and market to the right audience (mainly via word-of-mouth and a sample in my case). Then when your customer-to-be is ready to buy, she’ll know what you’re about and come even without prompting.

If I’m your consumer, don’t confuse me.

If I’m your consumer, don’t confuse me or take up a lot of my time with too many choices. Make clear specifically what you offer to meet my needs.

Lastly, make your product easily accessible. Situate yourself so that your brand will be the first thing I see when I’m ready to buy. Your brand or logo should read like a “Welcome Home” banner to the customer you’ve been quietly wooing for years.

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