help reduce the anxiety of shopping

17% cite decision anxiety

This is the thirteenth of 20 daily THOUGHTS examining emotions in marketing.‘Decision anxiety’ is an emotional state that impacts purchase behaviour. A recent study found that some 17% of people experience decision anxiety and a further 10% experience an emotion best described as ‘get it done’.

In some cases, anxiety is caused by not knowing what category of product to buy. This is demonstrated when consumers struggle to determine what to buy a loved one for Christmas or a birthday.

More often, however, decision anxiety results from a proliferation of choices within a product category. For example, men in a hurry in a supermarket may find themselves confronted by 30 butter options, 50 cheese options and 200 TV dinner options. This is increasingly apparent in a range of businesses such as Chinese restaurants and department stores. There appears to be a prevailing view that, the more choice the better.

Research by the likes of Dan Ariely from Duke University has demonstrated that more choice is not necessarily better. Indeed, Ariely’s research suggests that, for most product categories, 3 – 5 choices would be optimal and that every option after that contributes to an increase in anxiety and, interestingly, a decline in post-purchase satisfaction.

Decision anxiety can be reduced by decreasing the number of options. Decision anxiety can also be addressed by:

  • Demonstrating a clear distinction between products
  • Providing sales assistance and guiding the purchase
  • Providing information that makes decision-making easier

For many businesses, there is an opportunity to reduce decision anxiety and become a preferred place to do business. There is the potential to position a business as one that understands its consumers and takes the pain out of decision-making.

There is also an opportunity for businesses to exploit decision anxiety and target people suffering from it by offering a solution that will ease their anxiety. After a period of shopping, many consumers simply want to be ‘done with it’ and move on. Helping them to do that can create a competitive advantage.

For consumers, one of the downsides of decision is that they make the wrong decision for the wrong reason. Being seen as a business where that is unlikely to happen can be beneficial.


Recognise the prevalence of decision anxiety and the impact it can have on purchase behaviour. Design strategies to minimise it.

Also, implement strategies that will position your business as one that understands customers and provides the options, advice, and information needed to minimise decision anxiety.


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