Recently, I’ve gone back to having an iphone after having tried both android and windows OS. Choice? Kind of. Mostly it’s easier at home where everyone has the same.

It’s fairly typical that when you’re in the adjustment to a new piece of equipment/ way of working phase, it’s easy to note the things that you liked about the old way. One of the great things about the previous phone was that there were a bunch of apps it didn’t have (note that this was also one of the things I didn’t like about the old phone). But, when you don’t have some apps you either skip over that bit or you find another way to do it. Or, to put it another way…

One of the things I liked about the old phone was it’s lack of choice.

It sounds contrary but there’s a certain freedom and peace to a lack of choice; when something is out of my hands or beyond my control I find that I can let go pretty quickly and move to focus on something else. It also reduces anxiety about making the ‘best choice,’ if it’s just not there to worry about then it’s one less thing to think about. Some politicians (Obama from memory) even eliminate things like wardrobe choices and wear a combination of the same ‘x’ items so that they can focus on the more important stuff of running a country, it seems a sensible approach and probably a better use of energy.

There’s a growing unease with the volume of things we have to choose about; Barry Shwartz in his TED talks “The Paradox of Choice” talks of the example of 175 salad dressings in his modest size local store, and how overwhelmed we are with the constant array; from the level of salad dressing to mutual funds and medical care the more options we have the more inclined we are to delay the choice.

Shwartz says:

“One effect… With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all.”

“The second effect is that even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from.”

He speaks of his own experience at the jeans store and says:

“I had very low, no particular expectations when they only came in one flavour. When they came in 100 flavours, damn it, one of them should’ve been perfect.

I have noticed this in my own behaviour. There are times when equally good options are presented… “Which one?” I am silent, in the hope that someone will choose for me and that will just be easy. So what’s the benefit of not choosing or having someone else choose for you?

It lightens the cognitive load.

It’s one less thing to think about. Going back to my phone example for a moment it was easier to comply and go with the majority at home, the choice feels less like I had to analyse it and be certain that it is the best possible choice for me. I’m choosing this to make some things easier knowing that I will have to compromise but not concerned with what that compromise is yet.

How can retailers make choices easier?

We are seeing more use of technology and personalisation to assist customers in coming to a shortlist of possible matches. Ranging from the fairly low tech solution of product reviews and style guides to the relatively complex technology involved in reading micro expressions to gauge reaction to different product options.

At the Future Laboratory trend briefing in February the presenters highlighted the rise of the LADS (Limited assortment department store) in the UK and suggested that in Australia we are yet to see this group really take off. Limiting the assortment is one way help customers focus and also to keep prices down. I recall Guy Russo at a talk a few years ago relaying his experience on working to reduce the number of options in K-Mart; he spoke of 12 options for rulers and bringing them down to 1 or 2. Seems a lot easier right?

Adding together the basic desire of people to have the array of choices dwindled down to a manageable size list plus the default box tick logic that Dan Ariely talks about when he asks “Are we really in control of our own decisions?” leads me to thinking that there’s a great power and responsibility in guiding customers to a choice that’s satisfying for them.

How will helpful tech assist us with this burden of choice?

These groovy objects that I am yet to try are popping up at Westfield centres around the country and will be connected to your favourite brand to ensure you get the best possible fit match. Is this the basis for product curation of the future? Imagine that you’ve stepped into the pod and had your body scanned and that from the selection of items on offer it puts together some selection options for you and gives a preview of what those will look like on the body.

What about your goal body? Anyone else in a permanent state of wanting to lose 3kgs? What would I look like when I reach that goal? Is it motivating? Maybe.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you’ve too many things to choose from just know that you’re not alone and that clever people are always looking ahead to find helpful solutions.

Summary: things you can do to help with choice

  1. Take a look at your product range. Is it the kind of assortment that customers can navigate easily? then you’re doing well. If it’s not then think about reducing the number of options or
  2. Adding solutions to help the selection process
    • Reviews, shortlists, ‘we love’ type of guides and commentary like Sephora
    • Uniqulo & Birdsnest mood & style selector based on Q+A that the customer completes;
    • Bentley using selector based on micro expressions using facial recognition technology
  3. Where is your tech up to? Is it helpful – can you connect it to something to help select?

We help people make choices too. Not with micro expression technology (maybe this is something to consider), but with a clear and defined ‘Sense check’ process that supports choosing systems. Please send us a note or reach out to connect if you’re stuck on these choices.