The term information overload is used to refer to a state of affairs whereby there is a disparity between the volume of information available to a person and the ability of that person to process that information. The inability to process all the available information can lead to dysfunctional consequences. The subject has been the focus of various studies that have focused on information overload in relation to: input overload, sensory overload, cognitive overload, content overload, information fatigue syndrome and the availability of excess information. From an empirical perspective the level of informational overload may be denoted by the volume of information which is available to a person and the ability of that person to process the information which is inherently affected by storage capacity limits and the human brain processing limits.
Studies have shown that consumers who use the internet and other electronic applications that help in purchase decision making like comparison shopping agents may be overcome by the quantity of information that is available to them with regard to choice decision making, resulting in the inability of the consumer to make a decision (Malhotra 436). The consumer may lack the processing capacity to make a choice or ultimately may be dissatisfied with the choice they have made because of the existence of so many choices. In the last decade the use of the internet has increased significantly and an aspect that has come with this growth is internet shopping. Businesses have found that the internet is a powerful medium of selling their products and services and consequently have invested heavily in this new medium of reaching the consumer. The growth of internet shopping has also seen a significant increase in the number of internet online vendors who are responsible for a wide variety of choices facing the consumer today. Traditional walk in stores like Target may offer one hundred thousand items or products in a given location and their online competitors such as Amazon.com have the ability to offer eighteen million products that are available for the customer to make a selection. The development of internet technologies have meant that it has become an affordable and reliable avenue of electronic commerce thereby increasing the number of online vendors. The vendors have subsequently increased the number of choices that are available to the consumer. The information overload has become a significant problem for the consumer who lacks the ability to process the information availed by the internet with regard to the wide variety of choices available (Moe 40).
The consumer choice is threatened by this informational overload that has seen the emergence of decision aid tools that are meant to help the consumer to make the right choice in a time conscious manner because of the existence of numerous brands, variations and types of products on the internet. The consumer’s choice is threatened because they increase the burden of the consumer to make a choice because of the wide variety of options that reduce their ability to make rational and informed decisions since there are many cognitive variables that they have to consider before coming to a decision. Marketers and advertisers have ensured that product and service information is readily available on the internet and this has increased the amount of information. If a consumer is using the internet to look for information about a product they are faced with a wide variety of choices that brings in confusion instead of clarity. The varying choices take time to be processed by the consumer who has to spend a lot of time going through the information that relates to the choices so as to make the right or suitable choice. The information or choices become too many thereby removing the ability of the consumer to make an informed decision which is to their satisfaction. In the field of study there is little information with regard to the inability of the consumer to process large amounts of information in the short period of time that is designated to shopping. Internet vendors try to avail as much information and choice to the customer as possible without realizing that this is an obstacle which reduces the ability of the consumer to make a rational choice because the variables are too many to be cognitively considered (Shun and Yunjie, 276).
Consumers do not have the time to go through endless volumes of data so as to make the right choice especially in an area or field where they have no experience. The complexity of the search for the appropriate service or product becomes a source of frustration for the consumer because of all the aspects and dimensions that have to be considered. The availability of too much information on the internet makes the whole shopping experience a nightmare for the consumer and defeats the initial reason why they sought the information in the first place. Consumers usually have great difficulties navigating through the volumes of information to get the specific details that they require (Shun and Yunjie, 280). When consumers are sifting through the internet for information of a specific service or product they are most likely to go through large volumes of contradictory data that does not enrich their search but only leads to confuse them. In essence the consumer wants less data and fundamentally wants know what is important and relevant.
Search engines have made the availability of information more readily available to the masses than at any other time in the history of mankind. They have democratized the access to information and have become an essential component of the consumer’s online shopping strategy. The search engine is supposed give the consumer the best results in a search query but marketing informational technology strategists have found a way to get around the algorithms to ensure that their companies appear on top of search results even though the company’s service or product does not deserve to be there (Moe 38).
This makes it harder for the consumer to conduct optimal searches that are beneficial to their decision making with regard to shopping online. A recent study on the subject shows that seventy five percent of the search engine queries were unsatisfactory. In statistical terms this is a worrying trend because a substantial percentage of this are consumers who cannot find the information they need to make the choices from various choices. Studies have also shown that there is consumer fatigue that characterizes consumer shopping online.
In the realization that information overload is affecting the ability of the consumer to shop via the internet technological informational systems have been developed so as to aid in quick decision-making. Consumers cannot tolerate information overload and can be helped by electronic decision aids that are aimed at enhancing the decision confidence, decision quality and the decision time. The software application is essential in prioritizing information for the consumer by aggregating information and service processing when requested by the consumer. These applications are meant to save time and reduce consumer fatigue while at the same time they are meant to reduce the choice or information overload by increasing the number of online vendors and narrowing the search to specific products and services so that the consumer can compare the attributes that fit within their price range and this is referred to as comparison-online shopping. In online shopping it is hard to balance between information overload and sufficient choice information because there is difference that is paradoxical.
In conclusion it can be said that the main advantage of the mass use of the internet is the availability of information that is readily availability from a wide variety of sources. This major advantage has now become an obstacle to the commerce aspect of using the internet as a medium of buying and selling of goods and services. There is simply too much information which creates a sensory and mental overload to the consumer who seeks specific information so as to enable them to make a rational choice with regard to online shopping. Studies have shown that there is consumer fatigue with regard to looking for information on the internet (Malhotra 434). The consumer does not have the time to go through large volumes of data so as to make the right choices. After many consumers have made decisions based on online information they feel dissatisfied with their choice and decision because they lack the ability to process the information.
Malhotra, Naresh. K. “Reflections on the information overload paradigm in consumer decision making.” Journal of Consumer Research, 10.4, (2004): 436-437. Print.
Moe, W. A “Field Experiment to Assess the Interruption Effect Of Pop-Up Promotions.” Journal of Interactive Marketing, 20.1 (2006): 34-44. Print
Shun, C. and Yunjie, X. “Effects of outcome, process and shopping enjoyment on online consumer behaviour.” Electronic Commerce Research and Applications 5.4 (2006): 272–281. Print.