Decoded: How Netflix Makes Us Choose With Ease and What Businesses Can Learn From It

Netflix nudges us to decide easier and faster

You may not be a gamer but if you watch any streaming service, you may have experienced player’s high without even realizing it. Learn how Netflix uses psychological tricks to increase your screen time and satisfaction.

In this article you’ll find out: 

  • Why time is the No.1 Enemy when it comes to satisfaction.
  • What tricks Netflix uses to make choosing easy and remorse-free.
  • How to categorize your selection to tap into different psychological drives that make choosing easier.
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Plenty of options, but hard choices

When there’s too much to choose from it can be debilitating. Unsure what to watch, you find yourself endlessly scrolling through the Netflix library to the point of getting stressed about all the time it’s taking. You wind up watching Ghostbusters for the 14th time and fall asleep midway through.

But it’s not just you - anyone would feel overwhelmed when they’re faced with 50 000+ titles to choose from! And that could threaten Netflix’s primary goal which is to increase “hours per subscriber per month”. 

So how does the company – which claims that its real competition is time, not other streaming platforms – tackle choice overload, the nemesis of sales and customer satisfaction? 

And how can you use that same psychology, to make choosing easier and faster, even if you operate on a smaller scale?

Managing choice with ease

Going back to choosing what to watch, perhaps you’ve noticed that when you finally pick something after a long deliberation, you’re less satisfied with it than you would be if you had decided to watch the very same thing in a split second. You’re still questioning whether the other options might have been better. The same thing happens when we’re shopping. This is called buyer’s remorse.

The more challenging the decision, the more important it seems. The more time the customer spends on it, the less likely they are to be satisfied with it.

A growing amount of research shows that if deciding takes too long it starts to feel more important, and even consequential (yes, even if it’s just a show). No one wants to feel like they’re failing at something so trivial. 

In other words, the more challenging the decision, the more important it seems. The more time the customer spends on it, the less likely they are to be satisfied with it.

There are a couple of different ways to solve this inner conflict caused by choice overload (neither of which is a winner for Netflix):

  • We can choose to watch something we know and like (bad for discovering some of Netflix’s unique content & prized original shows and movies),
  • We may choose to watch something new but then not be as satisfied with it as we would have been if we had decided quickly,
  • We may choose to bail out - turn it off and move on to sex, sleep, or Salt 'n' Shake.

Choice overload

Choice overload is a result of too many choices being available. It can result in decision fatigue, sticking to the default option or even avoiding making a decision altogether.

The tendency to bail out is a major hurdle in retail too. Scott Bearse, a retail expert who has reviewed the buying habits of tens of thousands customers, points out that it’s not the price that causes people to leave shops empty-handed, but the fact that they are “unable to decide”.

So what are the ways Netflix employs to make choosing quick and guilt-free?

Choice Overload: How to Use Choice Architecture to Simplify Choosing
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