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Choice-Overload - When Less Choice is the Best Choice

07 March 2011

Whilst on business in the UK recently, I came across an interesting term - \"choice-editing\".

Quite simply the term means to reduce or \"edit\" the number of choices available to a consumer because of some pre-determined factor.

It's not an entirely new concept. Governments have been doing it for years. It's why we have things like Customs, Food & Drug Authorities and Safety Standards.

But it's now appearing as a more mainstream retail concept. And its not about consumer safety anymore, it's about sustainability.

The term was raised whilst I was talking to some UK retailers about sourcing Australian products for their stores. I was asking about whether or not we were starting to see \"label fatigue\" amongst consumers because of the bewildering range of \"green\" or \"social\" labels.

As a consumer it's hard enough to understand the nutrition labels, but now there are labels like the Carbon-Footprint, FairTrade, the Green-tick, Water-wise Mark, GMO-free, Organic, Sustainable Forestry, Dolphin-safe, Food Miles (little red planes to show how many miles the food has travelled) etc etc and the list goes on.

In fact there is a website Ecolabelling.org that tracks \"green\" labels across the globe. Needless to say they have hundreds of logos presented on their site.

So my concerns were valid - do consumers really want or need another label on their products? Are any of these labels really making a difference to their purchasing behaviours?

And that is when I was introduced to the term - \"choice-editing\".

Choice-editing in the retail sector is when a retailer willingly removes unsustainable or less sustainable products from their stores and provides in their place a wide range of sustainable products and services in all price ranges.

This directly shifts the responsibility off the consumer to understand the bewildering array of sustainability issues and puts it in the hands of the retailer.

The consumer then simply has to select which retailer they believe is the most sustainable, ethical, trustworthy. They can then shop till they drop, knowing any and all of their choices in-store are \"good\" for the environment and the community.

Personally, I like the theory of the concept. The economies of scale achieved in \"green\" production would be far greater if retailers refused to sell non-green items.

My life would be simpler if I only had to choose between a handful of supermarket chains to know I was being a responsible consumer, rather than trying to make the right choice amongst hundreds of thousands of products.

After all I don't really need 100 different choices of toilet paper. I do however; both need and want a toilet paper that doesn't destroy rainforests.

So less is definitely best in this instance and I'm a theoretical fan of choice-editing.

I'm just not so sure I can put that level of trust in my retailer yet.

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