Choice exhaustion: why less is more for Tesco

Time constrained shoppers have voted with their feet where Tesco is concerned, many are choosing grocers with fewer items on the shelves.

Tesco’s recently posted a record breaking £6.4bn loss and, of all the analysis, comment and opinion, one snippet has stuck in my mind. Tesco offers a bewildering array of tomato ketchup: 28 varieties. In Aldi there is just one choice, in one size. It may be too simplistic to blame all Tesco’s woes on red sauce, and certainly a loss of relevance and identity, over ambitious expansion, confused pricing policy and weak management have contributed to the supermarket’s decline. But I cannot help but think that close to the heart of Tesco’s woes is this choice overload, which has led to a confused and frustrated consumer.


For time-constrained shoppers, bombarded with information on a daily basis, both off and online, a glut of information is leading to ‘choice exhaustion,’ clutter and indecision. This ‘information overload’ is one of the trends discussed in our Global Retail project, Redefining Retail Places, which looks at the 10 trends reshaping the retail landscape around the world. Consumers and potential consumers are now bombarded with, but are also seeking out a huge amount of information, data and knowledge from retailers and friends alike. And this exponential growth in available information is fundamentally changing consumer behaviour around the world.

Curated consumption

While consumers are getting better at managing and processing the huge amounts of data out there (one innovative example of this is the rise in the use of photo-sharing websites such as Pinterest), there is also a trend towards ‘curated consumption’ which has been latched onto by some retailers, displaying pared-down merchandise as a way to attract consumers with a ‘showroom’ experience. I, for one, now crave a limited selection when shopping, whether it be tomato ketchup or a pair of jeans. I increasingly expect the retailer to do most of the curating for me, to only show me good quality products at a reasonable price. Retailers that are proving particularly adept at ‘curated consumption’ include &Other Stories, the latest brand from H&M. The chain has taken note of the way in which the consumer uses blogs and social media as fashion inspiration, and incorporated these aspects both in-store and online to create a highly interactive website that mimics this style and aligns with the lifestyle of its target customers.


Tesco operates in a different sector which (despite the success of limited lines retailers such as Aldi and Lidl), by its very nature needs to provide a certain amount of choice to its customers, who seek the convenience of a one-stop shop. But it gives me hope for the future, that the UK’s largest retailer has announced plans to pull up to a third of the products from its shelves.

A streamlined product line, with fewer, well-chosen items on display could pay dividends. It could kickstart a recovery from a retailer with a store in every postcode that has the history, brand, service and scale to adapt to changing consumer tastes.


  1. Sarah Pavlou

    Excellent read! I am a true believer that we are spoilt for choice.
    Having lived abroad for more than 14 years, with minimu choice made for an easier shop and one we accepted and got used to.

    In the large supermarket chains I have to agree… time is a big factor for the increasingly busy lives we all face and choice can often leave a consumer bewildered, confused and on some occasions make the shopping experience complicated; leaving consumers in a position of simply walking away without purchasing anything at all.

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