Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spoiled for Choice

I was at a fast food joint yesterday and ordered the "meal" which consisted of a hamburger, fries and a soft drink. Nothing special there, a normal fast food lunch. At least until I met the Cocal Cola Freestyle (R) machine which announces that it has 106 choices. Far from having the desired effect, it pushed me to a simpler modele iced tea dispenser. That got me thinking in the time between sitting down and the burger/fries being ready.

Why do I want that much choice? What effect does that much choice have on my desire to purchase? Are there studies on done on choice overload? I was clearly suffering from choice overload myself!

And yes, there is at least one study It dates from 2000, Columbia University and can be found here. A key finding (quoted from the artice directly) is "....people are more likely to purchase gourmet jams or chocolates or to undertake optional class assignments when offered a limited array of 6 choices rather than a more extensive array of  24 or 30 choices."

I see choice explosion all the time. Overly configurable software, shopping options when buying travel, brands of chocolate. You name it, we have so much choice over things that end up giving us distinction without difference. That is horribly wasteful - we have to use significant brain cycles in order to drive to a decision when fact there are no sensible criteria against which to measure the distinctions.

The sad part is that my experience "when faced with too much choice do something else." looks like it is a default human behavior and leads to the opposite effect that the marketers actually want.

I have long said that the hardest technology decisions are those made when you can't properly distinguish between the contenders. When asked to justify choice we end up choosing with the "gut" and then backfilling or fudging the "objective" data to justify the choice.

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