Shopper

A Paradox of Choice at the Supermarket Shelf

Their ‘System 1’ has kicked into gear and chooses the path of least resistance.


Shoppers develop a preference for brands merely because they’re familiar with them through prolonged exposure.


The paradox of choice. Coined over a decade ago by Barry Schwartz argues that people love to have the freedom to choose what they want, but conversely hate the anxiety around making decisions. But how is this affecting shoppers at shelf who are faced with a mass of choice?

It seems that for most supermarket shoppers, their brain is taking care of the paradox. Decisions on which laundry powder or can of beans to buy are made on average within 3 seconds with most people shopping on an autopilot behaviour – only seeing the brands that they recognise and screening out the rest. Their ‘System 1’ has kicked into gear and chooses the path of least resistance.

Shopping for groceries is a goal-orientated environment. People want to achieve it quickly and are willing to compromise for a product that is sufficient, rather than spend time analysing every feature to rationally choose the best.

In his book Consumer.ology, Philip Graves states “In many consumer experiences it is either impractical or impossible to compare the array of products on offer. To operate efficiently, consumers rely on their unconscious mind to make decisions”.

Although Google claims the research undertaken by consumers in the ‘Zero Moment of Truth’ sways choice, we find that it’s brand salience that works harder to help deal with the paradox – subconsciously guiding buying decisions through trust in what we feel familiar with. We like the brands and products we know or have seen in the past since they feel fluent and require less cognitive strain. The ‘Mere exposure effect’ demonstrates this, with shoppers developing a preference for brands merely because they’re familiar with them through prolonged exposure to communications.

So how do you become the chosen brand? We've got some proven insights that can help you do just that. Get in touch if you'd like to find out more.