Cultural Relevance

Paradox of Choice

The Paradox of Choice principle is explored by the American psychologist Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice – Why more is less (2004). Schwartz shows how, instead of increasing our capacity to make a decision, an abundance of choice can often lead to feelings of anxiety, loneliness and depression. Even if we might believe we’d be happier if given a larger range of choices in everyday life, we actually make better decisions and end up happier and more satisfied when fewer options are presented to us. Reducing choices will reduce consumer anxiety as too many options is overwhelming for our brains and, having to choose just one option from a large selection of “desirable” options often leads us to feel unsatisfied and hung up on those other possibilities we missed out on. The more choices we are given, the higher our expectations become and the lower our sense of final accomplishment and satisfaction. It can even lead to “suspended action”, where we are so overwhelmed by the choice on offer that we fail to make a decision at all.

This sensation is well known to all during those Christmas shopping trips where we wander aimlessly without a set idea of what we need to purchase in mind and ultimately end up not having bought anything as we spent the whole time deliberating over all the different options on offer. Online dating is also a current example of this Paradox of choice as we are given so many potential matches that we never feel as though we have found “the right one” yet and so continue searching endlessly; rather than considering each profile in terms of its own “potential satisfaction”, we are instead caught up thinking of all the other profiles yet to discover and are constantly worried we are missing out on something better.

The Paradox of Choice is often applied in the world of sales and marketing as it can greatly affect consumer purchase decisions. Whether shopping in store or online, customers can often be put off making that final purchase if shown too many products or if too much cognitive effort is required of them to make a decision. Under this cognitive pressure, customers will tend to either turn away from making any purchase or make a decision that will ultimately leave them feeling unsatisfied. It’s therefore incredibly important to ensure that it is as simple as possible for your customers to make a choice so that they don’t feel overwhelmed and so their final decision is satisfactory for both them and you.

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