Less is More, More or Less

“Well, less is more, Lucrezia”

Robert Browning

In the Financial Times the other day a small piece appeared entitled  Retail Groups Tackle Consumer Overload. It was all about efforts by such giants as the Dutch/English company Unilever to weed out some of their products.  The French cosmetics behemoth L’Oreal is engaged in a similar process.

The reason?  “People are going through life dissatisfied with the incredible overload of choice they are experiencing,” says Barry Schwartz a professor of psychology and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.

Perhaps more germane to the various companies is the market research that indicates notably increased sales in ranges that have contracted the number of products they produce.  Yes, you read that right.  Cut down and you sell more.

Counter intuitive?  Possibly, but more research is being done and it seems that consumers are 1) bewildered by too many choices and 2) put off by them.  They like a small number of choices, not a big one.

Ooh!  Ooh! Pick me, please! I know the answer to give perfumers world wide: less perfume.  Call me the anti- matter Oliver Twist, but what I want is less, please.  Perhaps you can make up by spending more time on the releases you do allow onto the market.

Let’s take the eminently professional people at Estee Lauder.  They’re very good at what they do, arguably much better than some fancy French perfume houses that shall go unidentified.  Nevertheless, they confuse the heck out of me.

Case in point – the last time I wanted to buy my mother-in-law White Linen.  How complicated was that?  I have a college degree.

Yes, well, the thing is, there were three kinds of White Linen on offer, and another kind on sale that came in a pink box.  I wasn’t sure which was which and the identifying name of the perfume was written in tiny type on the sticker on the bottom of the bottle, and you had to read it carefully or you could send mom-in-law a bottle of something totally different that she wasn’t expecting but it still says White Linen on the label.

And it’s not just White Linen.  I bought a particular kind of Sensuous perfume but not the Sensuous that says Sensuous on the box but the bottle is clear. This stuff said Sensuous on the label, but it came in another color of bottle, lavender, I think, and as with the White Linen you had to turn the bottle over to read a little tiny name written on the sticker on the bottom to figure out exactly what it was.

College grad that I am, sophisticated world traveler, matron extraordinaire, reduced to saying: “Uh, I want the purple one.”  Honestly.

And I nearly left the counter with the wrong bottle anyway, because it transpired that there were three kinds of sensuality on offer, and the sales assistant, blinder than I, could not read the tiny type on the stickers on the bottoms of any of the bottles.  She had to stop me walking out of Saks with the wrong kind of Sensuous because when she put on her reading glasses, she found the correct bottle was in fact the purple one.  Who knew?

I’m not claiming that it didn’t say Sensuous on the label.  It did.  It’s just that so did two other perfumes at the Estee Lauder counter that day and nobody is so OCD that they can parse all the iterations correctly.

So here’s a notion. Why not have one perfume called Sensuous and one perfume called White Linen that actually are respectively Sensuous and White Linen?  I’m not sure about the glamor quotient, but it may be that less simply is more profitable. Consider the poor consumer. May we have less, please, sir?

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One Response to Less is More, More or Less

  1. Janet says:

    Could be worse. There are something like 32 SKU’s of Colgate toothpaste. Good luck finding the tarter-control gel without the sparkles. Or just say “Uh, I want the green one”.

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