This study proposed a theoretical model of choice overload and empirically examined the model in the context of online apparel shopping. The purpose of the study was to investigate how the number of choices and product presentation formats influenced consumers’ online apparel shopping experience as well as how the formed attitude subsequently influenced consumers’ behavioral decision of subscribing to an email mailing list. To date, previous studies on choice overload have been conducted using experimental research designs, but findings from these experiments only provide fragmentary explanations about the phenomenon. The absence of a comprehensive framework to explain this phenomenon motivated the researcher to develop a theoretical model that treats consumer decision making in choice overload conditions as a continuous process. The proposed theoretical model is superiorly explaining under what circumstances the “too-much-choice effect” is more likely to occur, what evaluation mechanism consumers go through to form their attitude, and what consequences may result. Additionally, the researcher examined the effect of a moderator, product presentation format, on the relationships between the numbers of choices and the internal responses (attitude formation) in the context of apparel e-commerce.
Both focus group and questionnaire data collection methods were conducted. First, because of the limited literature on choice overload in e-commerce, the researcher conducted an exploratory study consisting of two focus groups with female college students. The purpose of the focus groups was to understand the relationship between choice overload and consumers’ apparel online shopping experience, such as favorable and unfavorable shopping experiences as well as website designs/navigations. Next, questions were developed that measured consumers’ affective, behavioral, and cognitive evaluative responses (three components of attitude) when facing choice overload. In this stage of data collection, an online questionnaire with nine conditions (mock websites) was developed. The experimental design was a 3 X 3 factorial design with three levels of number of choices (24 vs. 60 vs. 120) and three levels of product presentation formats (Model vs. Flat vs. Hybrid). To examine the main and interaction effects, two-way Analysis of Covariance (two-way ANCOVA) was conducted. The Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) and Logistic SEM were applied to examine the hypothesized relationships among the number of choices, components of internal responses/attitude formation, and the behavioral decision variable (subscribing to a mailing list) in the proposed model.
The findings revealed that consumers went through a series of stages to generate their behavioral decision when facing choice overload. Their internal responses followed the experiential hierarchy in the ABC model of attitudes to form their attitude (affective → behavioral → cognitive responses). The attitude formed had a substantial impact on their behavioral decision of signing up for the retailer’s email mailing list. However, product presentation had no effect on attitude formation (internal responses).
The findings of this research study provide insights to the attitude formation process in consumers’ evaluation stage of decision-making. Researchers are encouraged to apply the model in different contexts to examine the generalizability of the model. These findings also provide further understanding of the interrelationship of factors underlying consumers’ negative responses in their online shopping experiences when facing choice overload. In addition, the present research study provided further information on consumer attitude formation and behavioral decision when faced with multiple product choices.