The Paradox of Choice: Why Fewer Options is Better!

Imagine your boss has asked you to be the person responsible for finding a water delivery service for your office. It sounds simple at first – just a Google search, a couple of phone calls, schedule and pay for it – right? 

You go to Google and type in “water delivery service.” You realize there are different types of water delivery service, since Google recommends “office water delivery service.” OK, fair enough… so you specify your search term. You find over 500 million results for this search, as well as handfuls of different images on the right sidebar that show different types of products to choose from. Water coolers, water bottles, bottle-less hot/cold dispensers, water refill stations, sparkling water options… you name it.

So next you start clicking on recommended sites one by one, and you find numerous sales pitches from brands prompting you to buy from them. You click on the links within sites, get redirected to other sites, and rather than starting on a worthwhile comparison, 2 hours has passed and you’ve made no progress. You’re more overwhelmed and confused than when you started! Sound familiar?

You’re not alone. This experience is now a quite well-known one, because the abundance of choices involved with online buying is making our decision-making process extremely complex. For buyers, more choices are not actually helpful – they’re making us more confused. When we’re bombarded by millions of choices, we (without noticing) set the expectation bar very high, spend way more time and effort comparing, fear “missing out” on certain options, and doubt our decision in the end.

Let’s take a closer look at the causes and effects of this “paradox of choice” or “more is less” phenomenon, coined by author Barry Schwartz, and how they affect you as a buyer:

1. The amount of choices for buyers is increasing

Take a minute to consider the amount of choices you make everyday. You choose the driving route you should take to work, what you’ll eat for breakfast/lunch/dinner, how you’ll word that email to your boss about the upcoming meeting, which sauce to buy from the grocery store to go with your pasta, what you’ll watch on TV during your free time after dinner, and the list goes on. Research now estimates the average American makes around 35,000 choices a day. While most of them we don’t even realize we’re making, many feel crucial and require us to expend a lot of time and energy. And here’s the real kicker: the more options to choose from during that process, the more anxiety we experience, and the less we feel well-equipped to make a decision at all.

American buyers are especially impacted by this. There are more places to buy from than ever before. It’s now estimated that 70-80% of B2B and B2C sales are starting online. Additionally, the average American sees 4,000 – 10,000 ads a day. When using a basic search engine like Google as your tool, you’re faced with millions of options fighting for your attention, and you can’t possibly spend the time comparing all of them. 

2. Why “choosing well” is so difficult

You might be thinking – why can’t I just ignore all those options and keep it simple? There’s no need to go looking at every single site that offers what I’m looking for!

Well, our current marketing and advertising world makes ignoring everything online virtually impossible! There’s marketing messages coming at us from all directions, and they all want our business. You’re influenced by them more than you think… While you don’t end up going through each and every option a search engine “recommends” for you, it’s still hard not to wonder about which options you’re not considering and factors you’re missing out on. Additionally, we have the natural tendency to look at what other buyers are doing and compare ourselves to them.

The over-saturation of choices is making it very hard to make a smart buying decision. We’re prone to over-comparing our options, experiencing anxiety, and losing track of our original intention.

Consider that every year, the average attention span of an online shopper gets smaller and smaller. According to an article by Time Magazine, goldfish now have a greater attention span than most people do (which is about 8 seconds)! The internet – being an information overload station – is already an extremely overwhelming place for a shopper with intention to buy. Even if you go online thinking you know exactly what you need and what your goals are, your attention easily slips into thinking about different options, other buyer opinions, and advertisements, and starts to ask the “what if’s.” Then, you start to believe this information given to you online over your own initial goals.

More choices and more comparisons to make results in higher expectations. Because you spent that much longer weighing the pros and cons of each apparently relevant option, your choice will end up being a good one – right? 

Nope. Actually, the “what if’s” set you up to be disappointed with your decision. You compare what you bought with what you could’ve bought.

So, more choice doesn’t make us happier in the long run. We spend more time and effort on the decision process (even if it’s not conducive to your buying goals), eventually going with something that’s only “good enough” once the deadline for the decision sets in, and therefore a higher chance of being disappointed with that decision in the end.

3. How to make a smart buying decision

The truth is, the internet doesn’t understand the “paradox of choice.” It doesn’t understand our needs! It is not a person we can speak to and inform them about our business or personal goals, and it doesn’t have any idea about what would be the best fit for us. 

That’s why it’s key to set your goals – especially if it’s an important business or personal decision – before entering the marketplace and making phone calls. Get a clear sense of what your intentions are. Why are you buying this product/service? What advantages or benefits do you hope to get from it? What are your “make-or-breaks” with the product or service?

Here’s an easy checklist to set your goals before buying:

  1. What is your goal or purpose for buying this product or service? Exactly why do you need it, and what benefits do you hope to get from it? Is it a necessity or a nice-to-have? Make a list of all these goals, no matter if they seem “small.” For example, if you need to make a decision on a water service for your company, perhaps your goals are:
  • Environmentally friendly
  • 10 gallons per week
  • Hot and cold dispensers
  • Local supplier 
  • Under $100 per month

2. Prioritize those goals. Are some goals must-haves and others nice-to-haves? Rank your goals in terms of high priority to low priority, so when you’re faced with multiple options, you can easily weigh the pros and cons.

3. Find relevant options. We recommend reducing your comparisons to the “top 5” that have the components you’re looking for. Make a list of their offerings – including whether or not they include your initial goals. If they offer additional perks, jot those down as well.

4. Evaluate each option in terms of whether or not it’s “a fit.” Some will have more of your priorities than others. Rank your options, and choose a winner.

5. Weigh the potential consequences of each decision. Is there potential for it to negatively affect your goals? How will it impact your company – for the better or worse? For example, if you choose a water supplier that exceeds your budget, you might consider what other business assets you’d have to cut as a result. We recommend to think about this offline, so you’re less likely to be influenced by information online.

Keep in mind that to be satisfied with your decision, it’s still important to weigh a handful of options! In fact, research shows oftentimes limiting choice is essential to reaching a decision at all. But, we need constraints on our options to make sure we’re staying in line with our true intentions and goals. Just because some choice is good doesn’t mean more choice is better. As Dr. Schwartz puts it, you want to be in control of the decision – be a “chooser” not a “picker.” 

Setting your goals is a great first step to making sure you have control over your buyer journey. Still, many people find taking those goals and sitting the online marketplace is still overwhelming.

360Connect makes it easier on you to narrow down your options, to make sure the suppliers you’re considering are the best to suit your particular business intentions and goals. You tell us what your goals and needs are, and we match you with up to 5 top suppliers that can deliver those needs. Visit us here to get started.

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