Montana Western professors author book on consumer choice

The explosion of consumer choices is the subject of a new book by University of Montana Western professors Christian Gilde and Fred Chilson.

The book titled “Overchoice: Too Much to Choose From, Too Little Time” explores the pros and cons of a modern economy that offers more choices to consumers than ever before.

Gilde said the increase in choices is significant. “The average supermarket now stocks 45,000 products compared to 3,700 in the 1950s. Today we can shop at amazon.com day and night choosing from over 300 million separate items.”

A passage from the book details the pros and cons of over-choice. “On the one hand, over-choice can be beneficial in allowing people to have enough alternatives to find what they want or what is good enough for them. On the other hand, over-choice can be overwhelming, confusing, and even unhealthy, and can lead to bad consumer decisions.” 

“Choices are a good thing, Gilde said. “But the trap is you may invest more time than they really need to. When you’re looking for a house or a car, you are likely to spend a considerable amount of time making the choice. When you’re just looking for shampoo or toothpaste the effort spent should be minimal.”

In some cases, consumers faced with a large assortment of options, make no choice at all. “Too much choice can decrease the motivation to choose and diminishes the satisfaction with the chosen option,” Gilde said.

One study cited in the book showed that many people choose to have no retirement fund rather than stress out over all of the options. The study found that offering four funds resulted in a 75 percent participation rate, whereas offering 59 funds dropped the participation rate to 60 percent. 

Gilde and Chilson also detail strategies business owners can employ to ensure that they don’t overwhelm their customers with options.

“Overchoice” is an anthology. The first chapter was written by Gilde and Chilson, with subsequent chapters authored by colleagues and friends.

Gilde and Chilson are currently working on their next project studying the decline of shopping malls and the urban planning needed to utilize these abandoned spaces.

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