Is there such a thing as too much choice?

Posted by on May 26, 2013 in Featured, Too much choice | 2 comments

Is there such a thing as too much choice?

Analysis leads to paralysis. Too much choice can have a paralysing effect. Supposedly choice frees us. We can choose our majors in university, the type of work we do, whether to get married, what to wear every day, what kind of jam to buy in the supermarket. The list goes on. While some choice can be beneficial, too much can be overwhelming.

 

There are many negative effects of having too much choice. One of them is disappointment. When there was one or two options of a product, say a phone, one was more likely to be happy with the choice one made. Nowadays there are endless varieties of the type of phone one can choose and all of them supposedly have many benefits. So how are you supposed to choose the perfect phone? Two outcomes are possible. Either you won’t get a phone at all. When there are too many options, many people find making any decision very difficult since there’s too much to take into consideration. Or you will get the phone but will be less satisfied than you would have been had there been fewer options.  You would have the nagging feeling that perhaps the other phone with the other feature would have been better. Imagining all the other better alternatives can lead to regretting the choice you made.

 

Also when we have so much choice, expectations of the product or service shoot up. Since we have so many options for a pair of sunglasses, one of them has to look absolutely perfect! Perfection, however, is hard to come by. When something inevitably ends up being less than perfect, we are dissatisfied, blaming ourselves for the wrong choices we made.

 

An interesting experiment was conducted in a California market by Professor Iyengar and her research assistants. They set up a stand where they had samples of Wilkin & Sons jams. They either offered a selection of 24 jams or a selection of six jams. Here’s what happened. Sixty percent of customers stopped by the large assortment of jam; whereas, forty percent stopped by the smaller sample. However, thirty percent of people who stopped at the small jam stand decided to buy the jam. Only three percent who stopped at the large jam stand decided to buy. When confronted with too much choice, i.e. 24 different jams, the customers couldn’t make up their minds and therefore analysed and paralyzed when it came to buying.

 

When there was less choice, there were lower expectations. Therefore, we were able to be pleasantly surprised when the jam we got really was almost perfect. Now, almost perfect isn’t good enough. It’s inevitable that by choosing one product, you have to sacrifice the alternatives. When the alternatives are all so attractive this can lead to consumer confusion. Choice is supposed to make our lives easier, provide us with better products and tailored services. And yet never before has the consumer been so confused and dissatisfied with the choices he/she makes. So, is there such a thing as too much choice? I think the answer is a resounding yes and we need to learn that good enough is actually good enough.

 

References:

Image credit: Deborah Budd. (2013). THE “PERFECT” PURCHASE: DO TOO MANY CHOICES PARALYZE CUSTOMERS? Retrieved May 26, 2013, from https://www.secondwindonline.com/the-perfect-purchase-do-too-many-choices-paralyze-customers?journal=239

TEDtalksDirector. (January 16, 2007). Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice. Retrieved May 26, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO6XEQIsCoM

Tugend, A. (February 26, 2010). Too Many Choices: A Problem That Can Paralyze. The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/27/your-money/27shortcuts.html?_r=1&

2 Comments

  1. Great article I guess people like limited choices; biggest proof are the Apple products. You only got 1 iPhone at a time!
    Lets not forget the many aspects which don’t relate to consumer markets for example arranged marriage.

    • Yes that’s exactly it! That’s a smart move from Apple doing its marketing strategy that way. People don’t like feeling overwhelmed. Good point about the arranged marriage example, that would be an interesting topic to research. In a way arranged marriages can make it easier for a couple. When you get to choose your partner, you can now choose virtually anyone in the world. It would be interesting to see if this has lead to less satisfaction with partners. It has most probably lead to much more self blame if the relationship doesn’t work out.

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