Too many choices: More options for consumers is not always better

Posted on Feb 24 2014 - 7:52am by Guest Writer

By Natalie DeFord, Guest Writer

With today’s market greatly focused on offering customization to consumers, choices can be great, but not in every scenario. In some cases people love having more to choose from. But in other cases the process becomes overcomplicated and causes more guilt for the buyer.

Picture someone at a pants store. This person wants to purchase one pair of jeans that fit nicely, are comfortable and look decent. They may encounter 25 different pairs of pants that fit the criteria.

Sure, pants have different styles, different fits and cuts, but tons of different designs in each of these categories may be too much.

When trying to make more options, each option becomes less unique as there are only so many characteristics that you can change in a pair of pants. Fewer distinctly different choices can be plenty to choose from.

When someone has to try on 25 pairs of pants, they waste time on the 24 pairs he or she tried on and then did not buy. The  buyer may also feel guilty for leaving some of these pairs behind.

Such choices are not just found in the pants market, as products everywhere suddenly seem readily available for consumers to express their creativity and explore many options.

In many restaurants, customers can now choose between more than 100 varieties of soda. Restaurants provide different brands and types as well as different syrups and flavors. The possibilities seem endless.

Sophomore Ruby Reagan, junior Campbell Brett and I recently went to The Old Country Buffet in Lakewood. It was my first encounter with one of the soda machines, which was labeled “Coca-cola Freestyle.”

Reagan, however, had used such soda machines before. “I like the availability of flavors you can’t usually find, such as Lime Coke,” she said.

But, she said she is not necessarily more likely to buy a soda product with these added options. “I just like having it there,” Reagan said.

She also said these soda machines are “not anything that stand out but just one of those cool things that exist in society now.”

While Reagan said it is convenient to have more choices in a single location, she also said she’s noticed the syrups seem to run out faster.

Running out of a customer’s favorite flavor of syrup may be a negative, but perhaps it is also a sign of the machine’s popularity.

Designing your own personal beverage might be awesome, but consider the wait when each person in line takes forever to decide what they’re getting.

“I’m a person who usually knows what I want, so I don’t stare at it [the soda machine] for 18 minutes like some people,” Reagan said.

But it’s not that simple for everyone. Brett returned to the table with a regular glass of some fruit punch.

“I didn’t know what I wanted, and there was a huge line behind me, so I felt bad,” Brett said.

Brett said he went straight to the fruit punch because of the people waiting. “I did not browse like I had intended to,” he said.

Imagine the frustration of waiting in line while each person looks through a menu of over 100 items before deciding on a single beverage.

Some people may get tired of waiting or get angry, while some may feel the need to rush their decision in order to shorten the overall waiting time for others. In either case, customers would not be happy.

When many options are presented, simple decisions get more complicated. Products may feel more unique to the buyer, but choices can also be overwhelming and create indecisiveness.

Opportunity costs are also higher when more decisions are left behind and people are not always willing to spend time weighing their options.

Choices are not all bad, but this is just something to consider. The excitement each customer experiences may not always replace the potential problems some buyers may face.