In 2004, American psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote a book titled “Paradox of Choice, Why More is Less“. In the book, Schwartz argued that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers. He believes that choice has made us more dissatisfied and paralyzed, not happier or freer.
Schwartz gave an intriguing TED talk on this topic back in 2005.
What I find interesting is that 10 years later, the number of choices we have for many products and services has not decreased, as it seems Schwartz would have preferred, but has in fact exploded.
Here are some examples:
- In the past four years, there have been close to 40 new flavors of Oreo cookies available
- Crest toothpaste comes in almost 40 different varieties
- There are over 60 versions of Head and Shoulders shampoo
- Coke’s Freestyle machine allows the user to have 125 different flavors of soda
And these are just examples of the variety within one product line for each company. When you think about the numbers of cookie, toothpaste, or shampoo types across all brands, it is simply mind boggling, and could lead to paralysis by analysis.
The Onion even did a satire piece on this recently, “Pope Francis Reverses Position On Capitalism After Seeing Wide Variety Of American Oreos“.
So if Schwartz’s work shows that too much choice creates stress for the consumer, why do we continue to have more and more choices?
Malcolm Gladwell addresses this in a classic Ted talk, also from 2004.
Gladwell notes that “the great revolution in science of the last 10, 15 years is the movement from the search for universals to the understanding of variability. Now in medical science, we don’t want to know, necessarily, just how cancer works, we want to know how my cancer is different from your cancer. Genetics has opened the door to the study of human variability. (Psychophysicist) Howard Moskowitz stated, ‘This same revolution needs to happen in the world of tomato sauce’,” and he made that happen. The result is that we went from one variety of tomato sauce to the world of Ragu, where there are now 36 different sauces.
And that is what we see happening everywhere – with cookies, toothpaste, shampoo, and soda, etc.
So it appears that despite Schwartz’s belief that too much variety creates stress and unhappiness, it may actually be just the opposite.
Gladwell concludes that “in embracing the diversity of human beings, we will find a surer way to true happiness.”
So excuse me while I finish this plate of S’mores Oreos; I’ll be sure to brush my teeth with Crest’s Baking Soda & Peroxide Whitening Toothpaste with Tartar Protection when I’m finished.