Posted by Cynthia Sycip

How are we to cope with information overload and decide what to purchase?

Never before have we been bombarded by so many products. The internet seems to be a collection of shopping malls where one can find anything from the best toothpaste to the latest cure (to just about anything). Human beings are a curious lot; we are intrigued by products, no matter how implausible, silly or exaggerated their claims are. How do we cope with all this information and decide what to purchase?

Historically, big manufacturers gave out promos, coupons and came out with the most attractive sites – well – because they could afford to. Take the simple case of trying to buy a laundry detergent. Despite brand loyalty, most consumers must still choose between the citrus/antibacterial, the vanilla with (cloth) softener or the classic “effective” brand mom loves. Today, things have changed. Given the amount of information available on the internet, a new concept called “signaling” had emerged.

Signaling is a marketing tactic whereby a company (that can afford to squander money on advertising), comes up with marketing that is neither informative nor particularly calling, to mass market their brand.  The idea is if a company can “signal” then surely they’re credible and their product is of quality –at least that’s what our human snap judgements lead us to believe.  In actuality, many low-quality companies are using this tactic to appear credible relative to their higher-quality competitors.

Many have interpreted signaling as “burning money” or “throwing money down the drain.”  Yet it builds brand awareness, so is it really money wasted?

Studies like this one claim to protect consumers, but signaling raises major concerns regarding quality control. Other studies cite information overload (on health products or supplements, for instance) as a case in point for FDA intervention.

While most consumers today know what they’re shopping for and are finicky with comparison (like reading reviews, comparing prices, etc.), not all online shops are conducive to comparison shopping. Most socially responsible sites make it a point to ask verified buyers to review a product. However, in the case of online stores like eBay, there’s feedback requested (to rate the seller) but no feedback for the product itself.

Reviews these days seem to trump what traditional advertisers/quality control experts have to say. Let’s take the rather extreme case of The Doctor Who Cures Cancer, which legitimately sells on Amazon. More than 35 stellar reviews plus 5000+ reviews on his Hubpages blog can hardly be considered an overload.

Information overload or not, people seem to have mastered how to pick out the information they want, choosing from there to act on it –or not. This goes for everything from laundry detergent to noodles – it’s called personal choice. When we need something we search for what we deem as “important” information. Most consumers know how to sort out what they read on the internet and make an intelligent choice; even alongside marketing tactics like signaling.

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