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Too Many Choices

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Submitted By mitiy
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Too Many Choices: A Problem That Can Paralyze a Customer

The salad options at a Woolworths supermarket in Sydney, Australia. Too many choices can trouble consumers.

The article’s statement is linking idea of many choices in supermarkets negatively with accumulated marketing experience over the past century. Surely there has been no time in marketing history where the idea of choice has changed more noticeable. A quick reflection on a typical supermarket reveals how marketing has revolutionized this specific store and the world as a whole. Most people commute to buy in the store which suggests a choice of different products and different departments. During the workday, chances are high that the particular customer from a downtown will go down to the nearest supermarket in order to make his or her choice regarding some product. Upon leaving home, family members will be reached through different networks of supermarkets that use the same technologies of marketing. Each of these common occurrences would have been inconceivable at the turn of the 19th century.
In the beginning of the article the author attempts to bridge that negative attitude through her personal example with her son who was trying to make a choice at an ice cream store. She wants to describe a negative influence of many choices and her son's fear that the next option would have been better. Nevertheless, I should admit from my personal experience that when I was at the same age and at the same store, I would rather be happy, and I was happier with a wide variety of desserts I could obtain back then. Hence, it could be an author’s personal opinion rather than a solid factual statement. Therefore this assumption from the beginning creates negative shade to the need of people to have many choices while choosing a product. Looking back at the introduction, one could argue that without a big choice in a supermarket, the hypothetical buyer would need to find alternate store. Another buyer would be satisfied by simplicity of a choice. Anyway, this is more marketing attitude towards a client, than a real issue of marketing.
However, the reliance on marketing as a science does not necessarily preclude the buyer's desire to have many choices. The next author's examples reveal that a large assortment in a store might be more and more debilitating for customers.
The first problem with this assumption is that she gives an example of a jam study, which was conducted in a California gourmet market that is often used to bolster this point of view. In this experiment jam's jars were the only group of a product; it was not even a line of products. But eventually it negatively addresses this studied issue towards the idea of many choices. Instead of that I would rather compare presented author`s results with monthly sales results obtained from different supermarkets, but from the same shelves or lanes. Does it affect level of profitability? Does it have influence on turnover ratio of these Wilkin & Sons jams? Does it affect dynamics of sales? Author provides assessment of the particular case only.
The second problem is that the author provides a bit controversial information within this article. Her main statement has strong negative side, but the next example provides different research form the University of Basel in Switzerland. It says that too many choices are not always bad. That we have to rely on the type of expertise while we are making a choice. Personally, I would admit that in order to make a choice in a store at least you have to have this choice! No choice - no issues with making a decision!
Third, the author goes further and in order to support Mr. Sheibehenne’s idea she gives her personal example of spending a great deal of time trying to decide which company should provide her internet, phone and television cable service. She faced difficulties of a wide variety while she was making her decision. I would say that it is not up to the issue of a choice, but rather to the lack of information, education and understanding or both! It is not even a research, but just a personal opinion. For instance, if you want to repair your car you will go to your mechanic across the street. Of course, you can go directly to “AutoZone” and you will face the problem of a big choice over there. But it will be so only because of your lack of knowledge in that specific field, but not because of many choices.
Finally, author tends to show regional differences in different countries concerning contrast of “choosing experience”. That most of our decisions are less weighty, and we have to become more comfortable with the idea of “good enough”. According to Mr. Scheibehenne in her article: “It is not clear that more choice gives you more freedom”. Hence, for me it causes the next questions – What is clear then? What gives you a freedom? Alina Tugend gives only assumptions and hints, but does not give answers or marketing statistical data, which is basically allegation without documentation.
In contrast to the statements of the article, we can see from our everyday life how lack of choice frees the customers’ expectations. Consider how the digital revolution and the advent of the personal computers have allowed for unprecedented exchange of marketing ideas and collecting information about a customer. Nowadays each company has a marketing department, what permits top-management to do a self-research in order to make prompt, verified and expensive decisions. This ability opens pathways of thinking that were previously closed off for the most of the companies. Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart: “Exceed your customer’s expectations. If you do, they will come back over and over. Give them what they want – and a little more”.
This last example provides the most hope in how ability to choose actually gives hope to the future of retail business. By increasing our reliance on real marketing research, impossible goals can now be achieved. By using merchandising technology we can guide and satisfy our customers instead of causing a headache to them.
To sum up everything above I can admit that it is not "too much choice” in our everyday life. But choice will always mark the marketing experience, from the discovery of relationship between demand and proposition to the implementation of marketing strategy in the modern companies and organizations. Given the history of marketing, there will be no limit to the number of choices, both big and small, for us to tackle. There is no need to retreat to an attitude that many choices create issues, but rather embrace a hopeful posture to the idea that only a choice provides for new avenues of marketing.

Source:
“Too Many Choices: A Problem That Can Paralyze a Customer”
February 27, 2010, on page B5 of the New York Times.
*Please see the 2nd attached file with a text of full article
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PLEASE SEE THE NEXT PAGE

Too Many Choices: A Problem That Can Paralyze

Jack Atley/Bloomberg News
The salad options at a Woolworths supermarket in Sydney, Australia. Too many choices can trouble consumers.
By ALINA TUGEND
Published: February 26, 2010

TAKE my younger son to an ice cream parlor or restaurant if you really want to torture him. He has to make a choice, and that’s one thing he hates. Would chocolate chip or coffee chunk ice cream be better? The cheeseburger or the turkey wrap? His fear, he says, is that whatever he selects, the other option would have been better.
Gabriel is not alone in his agony. Although it has long been the common wisdom in our country that there is no such thing as too many choices, as psychologists and economists study the issue, they are concluding that an overload of options may actually paralyze people or push them into decisions that are against their own best interest.
There is a famous jam study (famous, at least, among those who research choice), that is often used to bolster this point. Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business at Columbia University and the author of “The Art of Choosing,” (Twelve) to be published next month, conducted the study in 1995.
In a California gourmet market, Professor Iyengar and her research assistants set up a booth of samples of Wilkin & Sons jams. Every few hours, they switched from offering a selection of 24 jams to a group of six jams. On average, customers tasted two jams, regardless of the size of the assortment, and each one received a coupon good for $1 off one Wilkin & Sons jam.
Here’s the interesting part. Sixty percent of customers were drawn to the large assortment, while only 40 percent stopped by the small one. But 30 percent of the people who had sampled from the small assortment decided to buy jam, while only 3 percent of those confronted with the two dozen jams purchased a jar.
That study “raised the hypothesis that the presence of choice might be appealing as a theory,” Professor Iyengar said last year, “but in reality, people might find more and more choice to actually be debilitating.”
Over the years, versions of the jam study have been conducted using all sorts of subjects, like chocolate and speed dating.
But Benjamin Scheibehenne, a research scientist at the University of Basel in Switzerland, said it might be too simple to conclude that too many choices are bad, just as it is wrong to assume that more choices are always better. It can depend on what information we’re being given as we make those choices, the type of expertise we have to rely on and how much importance we ascribe to each choice.
Mr. Scheibehenne recently co-wrote an analysis, to be published in October in The Journal of Consumer Research, examining dozens of studies about choices. One problem, he said, is separating the concept of choice overload from information overload.
In other words, he said, how much are people affected by the number of choices and “how much from the lack of information or any prior understanding of the options?”
I know this from experience. A while back, I spent a great deal of time trying to decide which company should provide our Internet, phone and television cable service. I was looking at only two alternatives, but the options — cost, length of contract, present and future discounts, quality of service — made the decision inordinately difficult.
This was not only because I wanted to get the best deal, but because the information from the companies was overly complicated and vague. I suspected that both companies were less interested in my welfare than in getting my money — and I didn’t want to be a sucker. This was a problem partly of choice overload — too many options — but also of poor information.
Research also shows that an excess of choices often leads us to be less, not more, satisfied once we actually decide. There’s often that nagging feeling we could have done better.
Understanding how we choose could guide employers and policy makers in helping us make better decisions. For example, most of us know that it’s a wise decision to save in a401(k). But studies have shown that if more fund options are offered, fewer people participate. And the highest participation rates are among those employees who are automatically enrolled in their company’s 401(k)’s unless they actively choose not to.
This is a case where offering a default option of opting in, rather than opting out (as many have suggested with organ donations as well) doesn’t take away choice but guides us to make better ones, according to Richard H. Thaler, an economics professor at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, and Cass R. Sunstein, a professor at Chicago’s law school, who are the authors of “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness” (Yale University Press, 2008). Making choices can be most difficult in the area of health. While we don’t want to go back to the days when doctors unilaterally determined what was best, there may be ways of changing policy so that families are not forced to make unbearable choices.
Professor Iyengar and some colleagues compared how American and French families coped after making the heart-wrenching decision to withdraw life-sustaining treatment from an infant. In the United States, parents must make the decision to end the treatment, while in France, the doctors decide, unless explicitly challenged by the parents.
This contrast in the “choosing experience,” she wrote, made a difference in how the families later coped with their decisions.
French families weren’t as angry or confused about what had happened, and focused much less on how things might have been or should have been than the American parents.
It is important to note that no one is suggesting that parents be kept out of the loop in such a crucial matter. Rather, the choice, as Professor Iyengar said, was between “informed choosers” and “informed nonchoosers.”
Since, fortunately, most of our decisions are less weighty, one way to tackle the choice problem is to become more comfortable with the idea of “good enough,” said Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College and author of “The Paradox of Choice” (Ecco, 2003).
Seeking the perfect choice, even in big decisions like colleges, “is a recipe for misery,” Professor Schwartz said.
This concept may even extend to, yes, marriage. Lori Gottlieb is the author of “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” (Dutton Adult, 2010). Too many women — her book focused on women — “think I have to pick just the right one. Instead of wondering, ‘Am I happy?’ they wonder, ‘Is this the best I can do?’ ”
And even though we now have the capacity, via the Internet, to research choices endlessly, it doesn’t mean we should. When looking, for example, for a new camera or a hotel, Professor Schwartz said, limit yourself to three Web sites. As Mr. Scheibehenne said: “It is not clear that more choice gives you more freedom. It could decrease our freedom if we spend so much time trying to make choices.”
E-mail: shortcuts@nytimes.com…...

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