Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Paradox of Choices

Barry Schwarz brings up many interesting points about consumer decision making. From a consumer’s perspective, I was able to think about many of my own shopping behaviors and relate them to his ideas. At first glance, the idea of having more items to choose from sounds like a great plan. The freedom that Schwarz brings up seems exactly what consumers think they are looking for while shopping. Unfortunately, many consumers find this freedom overwhelming and often return home empty-handed after a day of shopping. There have been numerous times that I make a trip to a shopping center or mall looking for clothing and return home with nothing because I could not quite seem to find what I was looking for. Schwarz’s idea seems accurate. Consumers have trouble making decisions because they simply cannot decide with all of these choices. After all, more is less.

The “official dogma” that Schwarz mentions seems to be a precise explanation of present day shoppers. At one time, we were dissatisfied because we did not have enough to choose from. However, now we seem to have too much to choose from. We thought that we could “maximize our welfare by maximizing our freedom.” Looking at consumer behavior, this has not been the case. We have always had the freedom to choose what we would like to buy. Increasing the number of choices has only led us to feel dissatisfied with what we finally choose to take home. Schwarz’s fishbowl idea seems unnecessary at first. Of course, no one likes the thought of limitations or boundaries, especially in buying behaviors. Although consumers might not want limitations, they cannot seem to handle limitless options.

The examples Schwarz gives are common problems that consumers face with choices. I have actually found myself wanting a phone that is less complicated. I have even found myself wanting a computer that is more user-friendly, and not so high-tech. Schwarz is right; there are no more easy choices to just choose the simplest option. Technology has enabled our favorite brands to provide us with more choices in hopes that we will find exactly what we are looking for. The truth is we do not all know exactly what we are looking for. The plethora of choices has actually made it more difficult to make a decision that we can leave satisfied with. His other example of the doctor giving a patient the benefits and risks of two options is also true for many people. Sometimes we just want to be told what to do or, in some cases, told what to buy which is probably why many consumers listen to commercials and use coupons. Many consumers need some suggestions or advice on what to purchase, and even on what they really want.

Experiencing cognitive dissonance is also an effect of having so many choices. Now consumers are going home and questioning whether they bought what they really wanted. Having so many options makes more than one item appealing, so you are never quite sure if you purchased what you intended to buy. As Schwarz mentions, this liberation that we expected to find in having more choices actually causes us to have more regret and dissatisfaction at the end of the day. The opportunity costs become greater because consumers begin to consider all of the products or brands that they might be missing out on. Now each of these alternatives subtract from the satisfaction after the consumer has made her final decision.

The final idea presented by Schwarz that I feel is relevant is the fact that consumer’s expectations have increased because there are now more choices. Consumers expect to arrive at their home satisfied and ultimately end up blaming themselves when they experience buyer’s remorse. By encouraging consumers to have low expectations, Schwarz is attempting to bring consumers to the reality that in decision making more is less.


ForrestBloede said...

Interesting personal examples and all align to Schwarz's point of view. Do you think that he is correct, and has the right idea with less is more?

Tara Pacheco said...

I do agree. I find myself in dilemmas all the time because I have too many choices. Recently looking for a full-time career at the expo, students are overwhelmed at the number of companies in attendance. Sometimes we just feel overwhelmed by all the choices we have to make.