Consumer Fatigue: Shopping Has Never Been Easier—Or as Mentally Exhausting

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Hey shoppers, are you feeling overwhelmed? Burned out? Thoroughly confused? You’re not alone.

Consumers tend to take a “more the merrier” approach when it comes to deals and promotions, product research and reviews, and, well, plain old consumption. But we all have a breaking point. Here are three examples where shoppers today have so much of what appears to be a good thing that they’re exhausted—perhaps even nearing paralysis:

Cars
It’s not wise to suddenly stroll into a dealership and buy a new car without doing much in the way of research or shopping around. More often, what happens nowadays thanks to the widespread availability of info online, is that folks in the market for a car go overboard sifting through their options. Four out of five car buyers go online to research cars and prices, according to a recent J.D. Power study, and millennials particularly like to do exhaustive research via computer and smartphone before setting foot in a car dealership.

Wards Auto reports that most shoppers spend 16 weeks, on average, researching models over the web before heading into a dealership. The process can easily feel overwhelming, and not remotely fun:

“More information sources plus the sheer number of auto options equals overload,” [J.D. Power's Arianne] Walker says at the company’s Automotive Internet Roundtable here [in Las Vegas]. “This is especially true among millennials.”

J.D. Power’s monitoring of social-media website chats detects such frustrations. One Internet user wrote, “Car shopping is exhausting and confusing. With every search online, I have to drink a sip of wine.”

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As confusing as online research may be, it seems to be largely preferable to the truly miserable experience of spending hours at a car dealership, when salesmen and managers work their various upsells and pitches for financing and extended warranties.

While it may sound incredible, more than 11% of new car buyers didn’t do a test drive on the vehicle before making their purchase in 2012, and one of the main reasons they skip this essential step is because they want to avoid as much interaction with car dealership sales staffers as possible.

Fast-Fashion
It appears as if consumers are tiring of clothes that are basically disposable—trendy garments that’ll likely be worn a few times, before winding up in the trash. Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, has prominently criticized the “here-today gone-tomorrow” mentality of fashion today, “where the latest look, lowest price or the hottest designer are paramount and quantity is valued over quality.”

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But could a shift in preference being taking place, in which consumers—even the young and trendy—are choosing higher quality, long-lasting clothes, even if they cost a bit more? A Bloomberg News story indicates this is indeed the case:

“There’s a whole vast sector of the public that really has been burned out by fast fashion and the novelty and is just very exhausted,” David Wolfe, creative director of the Doneger Group, a New York-based trend forecaster, said in a telephone interview. “There’s a great opportunity now for quality basics that are very, very well-priced.”

To some extent, there’s a backlash among shoppers who have been burned after buying trendy, inexpensive tops and jeans month after month—only to see them fray, shrink, and otherwise become unwearable after a few uses. According to the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the number of apparel garment purchases in 2011 was down 5.3% in the U.S., while the amount spent was up 5%. The average American spent $910 on about 62 garments in 2011, down from an average of 68 garments annually not long ago.

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We may still be buying more than one article of clothing per week, but at least it looks like we’re purchasing fewer of them, and what we’re bringing home appears to be higher quality merchandise.

Coupons & Deals
Every consumer loves a good deal. It’s just that considering the flood of offers and promotions filling up shopper smartphones and e-mail in-boxes, it’s difficult to figure out which ones are actually good and which ones are deals in name only.

The 2012 holiday shopping season will break records for retailer e-mails released to customers, with the average store expected to send around 25 messages to subscribers during the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

Coupon sites such as RetailMeNot have introduced apps that display dozens of discounts on shoppers’ smartphones. Per the New York Times’ Bits blog:

An average RetailMeNot user will see 38 coupons from 25 stores upon stepping near a mall, said John Faith, senior vice president of mobile at WhaleShark Media.

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Most consumers would prefer to have access to too many—rather than too few—discounts and product reviews. But at some point, even the most diehard shoppers get fatigued. All the special offers and info become overwhelming, just more confusing background noise that we try to ignore while remembering why it was we set foot in the mall (or car dealership) in the first place.