Marketing Idea No. 261: The Paradox of Choice

The mom and pop store near your house maybe someplace you love to shop, but it only carries a limited number of juices. What if you crave for a jackfruit flavor juice? Due to limitation set by space, chances are low to zero to find that particular juice in your mom and pop store.

Contrast that with Internet. Set free from the pain of space limitation, Amazon can carry literally limitless number of book titles. So even if you are interested to buy a book from an obscure author who published a book on impact of theology in 50s, you may still be able to locate and buy it.

Its a game of choices. And although in our mind we are pretty clear which scenario we desire more (which is more choices and more options, hence the second scenario), the truth maybe not as simple as that. Because although we are in love with the idea of choices, we dont like to choose between a wide array of lucrative options. Because choosing is decisionmaking and us human being like nothing more than status quo and comfort zone.

You would not prefer your physician giving you choices A, B and C. You would want him to make decisions on behalf of you or recommend something for you. For the same reason, you would check in IMDB score before buying a DVD, ask for the chef’s choice soup and buy the shoe everyone is wearing. Because someone made the difficult act of choosing from you.

Lets forget shoes and soaps for a moment and come to more pressing life choices. Once upon a time we only had one decison to make – whom to marry. Nowadays we are blessed with freedom and with ever more freedom comes ever more choices – when to marry, which gender to marry, to have children quick or later, to have children before or after marriage, to have children at all, to have career or children or marriage or both or all 3 together. And you would think with more choices our lives will be happier. But the result of such choices is Chinese women are now not looking forward to getting married at all and that poses a significant demographic challenge on China.

We dont like making choices and yet the number of product variants in all categories and number of items super markets are carrying are exploding. Thanks to Internet we feel if we can bombard consumers with a whole catalogue of songs to choose from to download, they will be inclined to purchase more. But that is not the case. In fact in some cases, if someone influences our choice, the outcome is much more desireable. Studies show that if you ask employees to choose to be a part of Provident Fund?Pension savings program sponsored by company, often times they say they want to but opt to use that money for current consumption. On the other hand if you make the choices a bit different and ask employees that unless they state very clearly and actively on paper that they dont want to be part of company sponsored Provident Fund / Pension plan, HR will assume that you want to be part of it. Therefore by framing the choices a bit differently, you can acually nudge people towards a more desireable outcome.

So next time when you go to a HSBC bank ATM booth and after transaction see the choice between “Do you want a paper based receipt of the transaction?”  or “No i dont want a paper based receipt” and also you see that the second option is already blinking for you to choose, you will know that HSBC is trying to cut costs on paper and probably reduce environmental damage by influencing your choice.

To sum it up, the explosion of choices are making us worse off in two ways.

1) Too much choice is not liberating. Its paralysing us. With more and more choices to make everyday, we put of decisionmaking as further away from now as possible

2) Even if we make the choice, we dont enjoy the satisfaction that fewer choices would have. Thats why even if you are almost 80% satisfied with the life partner you choose, you always think what if you would have gone for someone else for the 100% satisfaction guaranteed. You think of it as a mistake or a doubtfuol choice. That creates regret. And the regret cuts away from the satisfaction.

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2 Comments

  1. thanks for this nice write-up, observation on pressing life choices is thoughtful. However, on products like soaps and shoes, more choices can only lead to confusion, true. That is why, the art of branding is there! To stand out in the competition of many choices. If life choices can be branded (of course, the question is who will do that…), more choices might not mean “no choice”. As a corollary to this deliberation, I think social issues can also be addressed with the art/science of branding. Thanks.

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