Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The non-paradox of "The non-paradox of choice".

About this article: "More Is More: Why the Paradox of Choice Might Be a Myth" on The Atlantic.

I don't see the contradiction here between:
  • Too many choices being bad - overwhelming customers.
  • And too few choices being bad - choice always needs to be discernibly relative. 
Most of the time, those doing the 'choosing' are actually just searching for what they already had in mind: there's not time in the world to analyse the relative merits of each type of milk, butter, bread, jam, etc, for each range of items in your grocery shop, every time you shop (even if you could erase your memories and start from scratch each time). There seems to have been a pretty strong evolutionary bias against such strategies, hinting at the expense of this type of critical thinking.

Scheibehenne, et-al
So there should be a bell curve, with an optimum number of product options peaking in the middle somewhere. Exactly where that sweet spot lies will depend on each individual: domain naive persons benefit from simplicity, while connoisseurs generally think at a finer level of specificity, dependant upon past explorations.

The meta-study (Scheibehenne, et-al - 2010), to which the article presumably refers, appears to have been rather dumb: simply averaging the outcomes of the ~60 studies done in this area, selected from the previous decade, so that the two separate effects cancel each other out. In fact, the spread of study results lean pretty equally in either direction (picture, right). So the Atlantic article misleads by pitting a single, famous (Jam) study against "...10 different experiments... finding very little evidence that variety caused any problems,..".

Of course I didn't read the whole study paper, and might well not appreciate the intricacies of statistical significance, even if I had. But then I've not read Barry Schwart's book either, so this is just the ignorant rumblings of some guy on the internet who's read an article and watched a snack-sized pop-lecture (quite a while ago):

Conclusion: there's probably no marketing research shortcut here; you need to understand your customer's motivations, and the demographics there-of, to provide the optimum dispersal of product options for their satisfaction, and your sales.

What's doesn't seem to have been studied is the cultural phenomenon of spawning entirely new product markets, by gradually expanding established ranges. I strongly suspect that new economic ecosystems will monopolise a greater percentage of customer's attention and therefore spending resources. Promoting choice inflation (via biased reporting, for example) could be seen as a kind of capitalist control conspiracy: keeping a populace busy working all hours to buy more s...stuff, they don't really need. But I'd lay the blame squarely at the door of humanities's slavery to memes.

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