The Paradox of Choice

I’ve recently been looking again at Barry Scwartz’s book of the above title. It’s based on research in the USA into the fact that today people have more choice than ever but are less happy than previously. Logically we think that more choice is better but psychologically this is not the case. There is a cut off point beyond which people end up confused and they then make no choice, or sometimes end up making choices without evaluating all the options with the result that they end up unhappy with the choices they make.

This is important for business. Let’s say you run a shop selling running shoes. A customer of average height, weight and running style is looking for advice on the best pair of shoes. There are about a dozen pairs which will suit her so you offer them all. She just gets confused and leaves saying she’ll think about it and return. Alternatively, you offer just one pair. This time she thinks you’re just trying to punt the most expensive pair and again she leaves and goes to a rival store.

The best thing to do is to offer her three or four pairs. It’s much easier for her to do a quick, mental cost-benefit analysis or pros and cons analysis and she is much more likely to make a decision. This results in a satisfied customer and money in your till.

So more choice is not necessarily a good thing. Some choice is better than no choice but too much leads to confusion and confusion leads to dissatisfaction.

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