If you have ever paused to wonder when looking down the breakfast cereal of cracker aisle in the supermarket if such extravagance of choice is economically efficient, you may have sensed a future trend. Maybe we're going to have our choices narrowed somewhat.
Wal-Mart is not the only one doing this, according to Dibadj. He says leading drug store chains, including CVS and Walgreens, grocers such as Kroger (KR, Fortune 500), and Wal-Mart's rival discounter, Target (TGT, Fortune 500), are also looking to simplify their store shelves.
In good economic times, product variety is a must for retailers. But in down times, when shoppers aren't buying much, variety can be a burden.
"Wal-Mart's a little fed up," said Lora Cecera, retail expert and partner at strategy consulting firm Altimeter Group. "I think the feeling is that as these companies keep extending their [product] lines, it's only causing confusion for shoppers and not really driving them to buy more products."
As a consumer, she asked, "Do I really need to decide between 15 different types of toothpaste when I go to a store?"
Dawn Willoughby, vice president-general manager of Glad brand for the Clorox Co. (CLX, Fortune 500), agreed.
"On an industry level, we've been talking about simplifying product assortment for a long time," said Willoughby. "If you walk into a Wal-Mart or another large retail chain, there are so many products on shelves that it does make it harder to shop."
I think in part this could be a response to a buying public more starkly defined by income. As income inequality increases, Wal-Mart especially has fewer takers for slightly higher-end products. And as the article points out, more (and essentially identical) choices make shopping harder.
So, a little bit of Psychology, to fuzz up your day, specifically the psychology of choice and of happiness. Two gentlemen, Barry Schwartz and Dan Gilbert, have made these topics more accessible via their TED talks last year. To summarize and synthesize the two: The more choice we have, the less happy we are. When we do get choices, we don’t use them well, and when we make mistakes, we rationalize them to ourselves, but still we worry that we didn’t do the right thing. [More]Wal-Mart may think it is rationalizing shelf space and profits, but what it could be doing is helping customers enjoy their experience in the store by eliminating a subtle source of stress. Happier customers spend more.