The Paradox of Choice

14 December 2008 at 7:29 pm Leave a comment

 In August Susan discussed Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Choice that Shapes our Decisions touching upon client’s indecisiveness because of too many options. Mark Hurst,a marketer, that I follow recently talked about the same subject with Barry Schwartz, the author of The Paradox of Choice , another  outstanding book on the subject. As can be the case, I am in a different business place today than in August and after rereading Mark’s blog; it all came together for me and I am on board.

Schwartz says, “Everyone agrees that having choice is better than not having choice. It seems evident that if choice is good, then more choice is better. The paradox is that this “obvious” truth isn’t true. It turns out that a point can be reached where, with more choice, people are worse off.”

People can’t ignore options. There’s more effort put into making decisions, and less in enjoying them. What’s nagging is the possibility that, if they had chosen differently, they could have gotten something better. Some social science research says that one consequence of leaving your options open is that people are less satisfied with their decisions; if a decision is non-reversible, you’ll make yourself feel better about the choice you made. If it’s a reversible choice, you don’t do that. He refers to it as accepting choices that are “good enough”.

Transfer that thought to your retail business. If you provide sales options in your retail store, SAH or website, you might think the way to attract people is to provide as many alternatives as possible. But that’s wrong. You’ll attract people, but they won’t buy as much as they would with fewer choices.

 Schwartz goes on to outline how we should do that:

“There’s no general answer except “restrict options” – though in what way depends on what you’re selling. For example, e-commerce sites and store or your SAH client presentation should be designed so that the complexity is hidden, so that people who really care, or know a lot, can find their way to the complexity, and the rest of us who can’t be bothered to find it, won’t have to.

He cites an example of home furnishing stores -stores that sell things that don’t go naturally together – like clothing and furniture. They’re selling a certain aesthetic. How does a small store sell furniture? It puts a couple of things on display, and then offers a million items in the catalog. You’re not overwhelmed when you walk in; instead, you are in an environment where that’s manageable. If you like a couch, and tell the salesperson you’re interested, and ask if it comes in different colors or fabrics, the salesperson can trot out the catalog and then you can see the infinite number of couches you can get. First you’ve been seduced into wanting a couch by what appears to be the simplicity of the decision. That’s the right way to design things in the modern world, where everything is too complex.

He goes on to discuss Amazon.com’s If you like this.. popup. I have to say that I find it annoying. I don’t find myself buying from those popups and if I do start surfing, I end up losing focus and leaving the site without buying what I intended. So maybe he has a point. Schwartz suggests somewhere in the range of six to twelve options is what most people would be comfortable with, most of the time.

The lesson here is to arbitrarily limit the number of options you’ll consider. My husband I just bought a new TV and it took us over 1 year to decide because of all the options, new models and upgrades coming on the market. I was about to throw in the towel. I should have promised myself that I would go to only two stores and then stop my research and make a decision.

That brings me to a retail trend I have been noticing lately- the limited edition, curated site or store. While this concept plays into several consumer behaviors right now it also is based on the paradox of choice. Gaby Basora, the genius behind coveted line Tucker, just launched e-commerce with a twist. Here’s how it works: Each month, there will be a limited-edition (100-150) classic blouse in a unique print that is available only on the site. That print will not be sold again, which means that if you score one, you will be the proud owner of a Tucker collector’s item, so to speak. Consider Gaby’s take. Cut back on the number of samples books you’re bringing into the house or consider a limited edition window fashion website,

For a “more is better” person like I am; I have resolved to start to editing my options in both my personal life and in working with my clients. If they came to me because I am the so –called expert: then here are the choices I recommend and I can back up. If she needs to see every fabric in every sample book, she’s not the client for me.

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Entry filed under: Client Relations, Experience Enhancement, Innovation, Marketing, Multiple Personalities, Trend. Tags: , , , , , , .

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