Trends Briefing: Control, Choice and Consumer Autonomy

Thursday 27th April 2023


Register here

Humans like being in control. It’s associated with higher wellbeing and more a positive outlook.


It’s something we measure very closely. Every month, as part of our Optimism Index barometer we ask a representative sample of UK adults how much freedom of choice and control they feel they have over the way their life turns out. We interpret this as a eudemonic measure of wellbeing, allowing us to understand how much autonomy people feel they have.

Autonomy has really suffered over the past year as financial worry has left people worrying more than usual about keeping their heads above water. It also suffered in late 2020 as we slid inexorably into more Covid restrictions, with people confused by the tiers system and unsure what to expect from the future. This was in sharp contrast to the first lockdown, in spring 2020, when autonomy rose – with less going on, people felt more in control.

There are big differences by cohort too. Men generally feel more in control than women, people who own property feel much more in control then people who rent. There are vast differences by income (unsurprisingly, people who earn more have higher autonomy) and older generations feel more in control than younger.


Most importantly, choice and control is a vital part of our daily life, our wellbeing and our relationship with organisations.


Businesses should look to put their customer in control – but too much can be overwhelming. The famous jam experiment warns against choice overload. That’s sensible – if often makes sense to limit, or at least curate the choices you’re letting the customer make. But there’s a bigger question about when it is right for organisations to surrender control and let the customer make the choice.

Those questions are increasingly important. It’s never been easier to feel out of control thanks to a never ending news cycle, financial stress and the hefty demands of work and life. As AI threatens to automate more of our lives could we feel even less in control in the future?

Join us for our next trends briefing on April 27th when we’ll explore consumer autonomy and, with reference to ChatGPT, O2, Dominic Cummings, Meta and Heat Pumps, the implications for organisations of getting the right balance between choice and control.