Too Much Choice is Killing our Ability to Make Decisions
I'm a huge Parks and Recreation fan and from that I have become a big fan of the actor and comedian Aziz Ansari. In Parks he plays Tom Haverford or Tommy Timberlake as he sometimes calls himself. The guy is a dweeb. But the character brilliantly sends up the self-obsessed, money for nothing, modern social media celeb culture.
I read about a book Ansari had co-written with American Sociologist Eric Kleinenberg, called ‘Modern Romance'. The book basically talks about, and provides research into, the change in romantic society that has occurred over the past 10-20 years. Dating apps, messenger services and internationalization mean people basically have access to a seemingly limitless stream of potential partners that can be perused on the bus on the way home, while eating lunch or while half watching a film.
Ansari and Kleinenberg talk about the choice paradox, which is an idea made famous by Barry Schwarz's book of the same name.
The basic idea is that in modern society we have so much choice that it creates this sense of paralysis. When walking down a supermarket aisle and seeing 20 types of peanut butter, we start to over analyze the options before us, so much so that no decision is made. No peanut butter is bought. Or a decision is made but deemed unsatisfactory.
I got to thinking about how this idea, choice paralysis, must occur in digital media and how new technologies only heighten that over-analysis.
I'm trying to furnish a new house, and I'm feeling this paralysis. There are now so many online platforms to choose furniture from; Made.com, Houzz, Alibaba, Swoonseditions etc. There isn't really that much differentiation between the products. The depth of products, along with the frequency with which they are introduced and the ease with which they're consumed on social media, mean I just can't decide.
There is a lesson here for digital marketers. In the race to provide customers with the latest way to purchase something or the best way to compare thousands of products, we might actually just be making things more difficult for the consumer. The culture of quick swipe decisions might actually mean that we are making less well informed choices and acting on impulse rather than insight.
So, just like Aziz is campaigning for a more traditional look at dating, and I am resorting to frequenting antiques stores looking for the best coffee table in person, perhaps the best thing we can offer consumers is actually less noise, fewer choices and instead of trying to speed up buying, giving customers the chance to step back, take in the information and make a considered choice. Let’s bring the romance back.