Late one evening I took a cruise through Netflix to catch up on TED Talks. I stumbled upon Barry Schwartz‘s talk on The Paradox of Choice. I found it fascinating and dug a little deeper online where I read about his now famous jam study:
When researchers set up [in a gourmet food store] a display featuring a line of exotic, high-quality jams, customers who came by could taste samples, and they were given a coupon for a dollar off if they bought a jar. In one condition of the study, 6 varieties of the jam were available for tasting. In another, 24 varieties were available. In either case, the entire set of 24 varieties was available for purchase. The large array of jams attracted more people to the table than the small array, though in both cases people tasted about the same number of jams on average. When it came to buying, however, a huge difference became evident. Thirty percent of the people exposed to the small array of jams actually bought a jar; only 3 percent of those exposed to the large array of jams did so.
While The Paradox of Choice was published in 2004 it seems more relevant than ever. We have more choices than ever before in: cell phones, toothpaste, coffee concoctions, and disposable razors (hydro-flexible-sensitive-hybrid(huh?)-turbo-aloe) and the list goes on…
I experienced “choice overload” earlier this summer on a trip to South Haven where I visited a store that sold olive oil and vinegar. There were so many options, after tasting probably 12 different oils and vinegars I left the store, overwhelmed, purchasing nothing. I really went in to purchase just my favorite – butter flavored olive oil, but was out of the mood to buy by the time I got around to it.
So, this question of so many choices – is it a good thing or a bad thing? I found out there is much, much research on the subject, more than I can cover here. My belief is more times than not, too many choices isn’t a good thing. Heck, just trying to determine what is different from one product to the next is stressful. Then, after you make a choice are you going to constantly second-guess your decision? Wonder if one of the other options was better? I remember my mom telling me when she was little she had two pairs of shoes, one pair for school, one pair for church. I bet that she didn’t have a lot of stress when getting dressed for school.
Simplicity has it’s benefits. What do you think? Having a lot of choices, a good thing or a bad thing?