Reports & Whitepapers

4 Insights into Consumer Indecision & Choice Paralysis

October 21, 2014

Have you ever gone to a shoe store and been unsure which sneakers to buy? Have you ever debated with coworkers what you should eat for lunch? If so, you’ve experienced one of the most common and understudied phenomena impacting a consumer’s pathway to purchase: Choice Paralysis. 360i’s Insights & Planning team recently investigated choice paralysis by listening to organic social media conversations to explore why consumers experience this inability to choose, and how brands can best navigate this crucial barrier to purchase.

While choice paralysis does not affect all brands or all types of people in the same way, based on an analysis of more than 200 social media conversations, the data showed:

  • A majority of consumer indecision is around products consumers use every day. 78 percent of choice paralysis conversations center around products consumers spend a moderate to considerable amount of time with in their everyday lives.
  • Fashion, gaming and mobile device purchase decisions showed the highest levels of choice paralysis, likely because they are directly tied to self-identity.
  • Nearly one third of choice paralysis conversations were about products within the same brand.
  • Over 60 percent of choice paralysis occurs when a consumer must make a decision between one or two items. Most people know what they want, but have trouble pulling the trigger on a purchase.

Time spent with a product is a strong catalyst of choice paralysis

Above other more commonly-discussed considerations, such as price point, the time spent with a product is often the most powerful catalyst of choice paralysis in social media conversation. For instance, our analysis uncovered that more people experience choice paralysis regarding nominally priced cell phone cases than when purchasing expensive concert tickets. The more time a consumer spends with a product, the more difficult it is for them to select which version of that product to buy. Clearly, consumers value their time – this is a self-evident truth – but this insight highlights an important distinction about consumer behavior. In understanding choice paralysis, the consumer mindset is more centered on “how important will this product be in my life” rather than, “is this product worth it?”

Marketer Implication: Understanding a consumer’s consideration progression is crucial to resolving choice paralysis. The fear of making the wrong choice on a product they will use frequently weighs heavily on the consumer. Brands should optimize their communication strategy to address these fears at consumer touch points when they are disposed to choice paralysis.The more a brand relates to their consumers, the better chance they have at dissuading choice paralysis.

Choice paralysis is most often triggered by tech and fashion

Within online conversation about choice paralysis, the top three product categories mentioned were fashion, mobile and gaming consoles. Fashion tops the list because it shapes the identity of a consumer and products will be worn many times. However, products like smart phones and gaming consoles can shape identity in less obvious ways. Consumers know that when they choose between iPhone vs. Android or XBox vs. PlayStation, the product will say something about them and their personalities. They are also choosing to join a community of mobile or gaming users that will further shape their identities over time.


Product Verticals Most Talked About in Social Media When Consumers Experience Choice Paralysis
(360i analysis of the social media landscape conducted August 2014 for data spanning July 16th, 2013 – July 15th, 2014.
Sample size: 205/205 posts from blogs, forums, public Facebook profiles and Twitter
*Excluded product vertical mentions totaling 5% or under)

Marketer Implication: Goods closely tied to a consumer’s self-image are especially susceptible to longer periods of choice paralysis. To consumers, these products are closely tied to self-expression. Brands should support their consumers’ pursuit of self-identity using communications that champion the consumer and their ambitions over product-focused messaging.

Choice paralysis varies by age and gender

Beyond understanding what causes choice paralysis, we learned that people experience choice paralysis differently. Key differences emerged when grouping consumers by their age and gender. For instance, men (at 36 percent) often experience choice paralysis while making functional decisions, such as comparing two cable plans, while women (at 57 percent) experience choice paralysis when making decisions of a more emotional nature, such as shopping for clothes. There also exists variation in choice paralysis between teens and 20-somethings. Teen conversation centers around emotional decisions, such as choosing a prom dress, while 20-somethings are more concerned with functional decisions, such as buying their first car.


How Consumers Vocalize Choice Paralysis on Social Media
(360i analysis of the social media landscape conducted August 2014 for data spanning July 16th, 2013 – July 15th, 2014.
Sample size: 136/205 posts from blogs, forums, public Facebook profiles and Twitter)

Marketer Implication: Brands can help prevent choice paralysis in target consumers by proactively understanding who they are and what they need. Brands must remember that certain groups of consumers respond better to practical marketing, while other consumers are triggered by their emotions. Demographic and gender-based targeting are effective strategies in amplifying the right messages to the right audiences.

Choice Paralysis most often affects in-brand choices

While it’s commonly held that more options result in more indecisiveness, consumers more frequently described experiencing choice paralysis when making a decision with only two options. Even more, we learned that one in three instances of choice paralysis is between two items made by the same brand, rather between items made by competing brands. This indicates that even after the consumer has selected a brand to purchase from, they can still experience choice paralysis while settling on a particular product to buy.

Marketer Implication: Brands should remember that they are not always competing with other brands during a consumer’s purchase journey. Consumers who have already selected a brand but have not made a purchase should not be overlooked. To help consumers select a product before losing their business, brands should make both practical and emotional differentiators readily available in order to relate to consumers.


Consumers are faced with more decisions than ever these days, cluttering their lives with choices, and making reaching a purchase decision more difficult. Choice Paralysis can be a mere hurdle or a significant barrier along the consumers’ path to purchase, and more people are turning to social channels for help in making these decisions. By better understanding why it happens and how people experience it, marketers can build effective communication touch point strategies that anticipate choice paralysis pain points, and help consumers make purchase decisions. In this way, brands can further play the role of trusted advisor.

Co-authors: Jason Waterman, Intern; Nick Berger, Intern; Brigid Demko, Intern; Sam Stein, Analyst, Insights & Planning; and Evann Clingann, Senior Analyst, Insights & Planning at 360i.

Cover photo via The Guardian