The Tyranny of Choice

We live in a world of seemingly endless choices and options.  All one need do is enter a supermarket and count the number of breakfast cereals arrayed on shelves measuring about 3 meters high and 100 meters long.   If you or your children had not already developed a liking for a particular brand and you had to now select a new cereal from the shelf, I suspect you would have a hard time making up your mind.  

A recent article in the New York Times reported on a study which measured consumer satisfaction. A primary conclusion reported was that when consumers are presented with too many choices, two things happen.  One, the process becomes exhausting to the point where it interferes with the decision making process, and two, buyers as a rule are  less satisfied with their purchase than they would have been had they had fewer choices. When confronted with two or three options we are able to assimilate and discriminate between the various differences, but with dozens and sometimes hundreds of options, it all becomes a confusing maze. And because we can’t really know all the nuances and differences of so many products (to the extent that they may even exist), we’re never sure if we made the right choice, we’re constantly second-guessing ourselves after the purchase, and this is a recipe for dissatisfaction and buyer remorse.

A woman I know was looking to buy a new washing machine.  She did weeks of research on the internet, comparing prices, capacities, warranties, readers’ comments and everything else you can imagine.  She printed and organized her material into folders and studied it ad nauseum — until eventually overcome by the nausea.  When it came time to buy, she filed all the folders in the nearest recycling bin, walked into the local appliance store and bought the machine recommended by the salesman.  She is today quite satisfied with her purchase.  Smart lady.

About the Author
"Heaven never decreed that you must live forever in debt." David made Aliyah from the U.S. in 1983. He worked in education and hi-tech prior to establishing BONUS Family Budget Counseling. He counsels families and groups on proper money management and Israeli consumerism.