It’s been happening more frequently lately. Finding mid-shop that I have tuned out. Why am I here? What was I looking for? Have I started drooling? Is this a familiar experience for you too? (perhaps the last question is just me)… am I becoming more susceptible to the maze and haze of getting lost in the lights and not finding the product I am looking for?

“Some psychologists have described the Gruen Transfer as an almost paralytic state, where the mind ceases to function because it is experiencing too much input.”

Too much is absolutely it. I read recently that something like 90% of content online has been created in the last two years; no wonder it feels like an avalanche of information is colliding right on top of me. This article, whilst dated (there’s way more than one IKEA store in Sydney now) sets out some of the strategies that stores use to get us into that gruen like state.

We are constantly being told that as consumers we are so much better informed and savvy that ever, does this create pressure to be savvier? Do retailers need to help customers navigate, without getting lost, through the onslaught of choice?

Getting lost and tuning out

We had a weekend family trip to Bunnings, we had gone there with an actual list and were probably there for a reasonable amount of time all things considered (think Halloween costumes, balloons and popcorn). I was entertained by the sight of a staff member who was being followed around like a tour guide, answering one customers question whilst a group of waiting eager beavers followed in his wake to get their questions answered. Have you seen this at your local Bunnings? The conversation I could hear going on in the background between staff members reminiscent of that great Abbott & Costello ‘Who’s on first?’ ‘Who was on paint? No, I’m on lighting’ but after a while I really needed to get out of there. I mean, really.

It was that feeling of overwhelm, I didn’t care about the last item on the list I really didn’t have the mental capacity to filter through the aisles and aisles to find it. I just wanted out, as I was getting that feeling of purposelessness, heading towards too much. I had lost the purpose that brought me there in the first place and couldn’t muster the will to look for the needle in a haystack (or barn). So have I become immune to the gruen transfer? Or is that some sort of early warning system kicking in from over exposure? Whatever the reason I am not convinced it has the desired effect anymore.

What happened to curation?

Do I really need to select from 15 different types of shade cloth? The role of the buyer no matter what the size of the store is that of curator (or filter), a person who reduced the selection to a good number of options that matched the needs of their customer. The store (on or offline) can play a big part in helping through this selection process, to make it a bit easier on the customer, but then along comes choice and more choice, which we all still want. But to make sense of the choices on offer there’s still a need for curation, for me at least. Looking at massive online selections in fashion tells me that there must be some (is this a younger thing?) who are quite willing to trawl through what I think of as way too many options to find the item that will suit them.
Filters are essential, and ones that have some additional purpose or create some fun are even better.
Uniqlo have recognised that the overwhelm can get too much, and have created this fun tool to help guide purchases. Whilst it may not be right on the money in terms of mood it definitely streamlines and defines a shortlist, a more digestible bite size group of products to consider and gives you something to do if you’re feeling way too lost and overwhelmed by it all.

Sephora selection options

So we are standing outside the flashy Las Vegas type display of the Sephora store in Pitt St, and noting this odd overwhelm that has been a shared experience. Is it just large stores that get you lost? Are too many choices?

OK, we’re going in! We make a purpose, we’re looking for mascara.

And there it is, like it was conjured out of the wish for it… a stand with ‘top picks’ mascaras on it no less. With all the details of the different mascaras and what they do. I know, I had no IDEA mascara did quite so many things; lengthening, volumising, curling, conditioning the list of things mascara does is quite extensive. How to choose? Well there’s a variety of price points and features to the products.

Matched with this is a complete testing station with wipes, brushes and tissues to encourage us to touch and try it all out. We spent a good little while there matching the right products with the correct shelves and reading about them all; finally, a selection is made based on a problem and promised solution (smudge proof they say – we’ll see).

After selecting the mascara of choice we noted that it appeared again in the store, in the ‘brand location’ where that particular brand had 8 different product options for mascara. Had the stand not been there this could have gone either way, a customer left to their own devices with 5 or more options per brand would be forgiven for giving up and exiting the store with nothing, the danger of way too much information.

The Online top picks (filtering)

Online is no different really. I actually don’t have time to trawl through every single option that Asos has for me, and very much appreciate a stylist or guest selector putting a short list together. I might not always choose from that list but as an introduction it helps to have a ‘best of’ presented front and centre.

I have noticed that the way I shop online is very much the creation of a shortlist (either by putting it in a wish list or the cart) and then review in more detail each candidate. Filters like size and colour have been online for some time. If I could have an option to also filter out items that are not in stock in my size that would be super.


In summary if retailers adopted just these three practices, it would not only help me keep my sanity but add a few more dollars to their tills…

  1. Make a filter (or curation) fun if you can; the mood selector may not be accurate, but people will want to try it
  2. Make sure that all the accessories for trying out the different recommended products are available, that the station is well stocked and the products are tidy
  3. Online filters by colour, size and purpose is important (if you could add to this don’t show me stuff that isn’t in stock I would be pleased), the faster the search results are displayed the better

Any suggestions for filters or product curation? Drop us a line or leave a comment.