The paradox of the paradox of choice

Can we talk about the paradox of choice?
You know, just before we happily let behavioural economics take over marketing strategy completely?

It’s not that simple.

As behavioural economics become more important in marketing, Barry Schwartz’s 2004 best-seller and some writing that followed him are almost a dogma for some people:
Choice creates fatigue and anxiety → reduce choice to increase sales.

BUT, it’s just not that simple.
1. Choice overload isn’t a consistent effect
2. Choice reduction alone does not ensure an increase in sales

A 2015 meta-analysis of 99 studies isolated the circumstances in which reducing choices to customers are most likely to increase sales. What they identified is four factors:

  1. Choice set complexity
  2. Decision task difficulty
  3. Preference uncertainty
  4. Decision goal

And what they saw across studies is that when the above factors are mitigated, the tolerance for choice often increases.

Essentially, reducing complexity is more important than simply reducing choice.
Portfolio strategy is not an exercise in reducing SKUs.
Brand Architecture is not an exercise at killing and consolidating sub-brands.
And behavioural economics isn’t the silver bullet people think/pretend it is.
Because unlike research, few marketing challenges concern a single, isolated, factor.
Sorry, I know you didn’t ask for a side of nuance with that.

Strategist. Director of a boutique agency. Teaches the D&AD’s strategy masterclass and the SCA’s course in strategy. Writing between marketing and culture.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store