Sandra starts looking for a mobile phone on Amazon because she had been using her current phone for a while now. Being neither a gadget freak nor tech-savvy, all Sandra wants is a good smartphone. As she checks online, the number of brands available and the number of models in each brand make her dizzy.

Sandra finally decides that she would figure out the best smartphone in her budget at a later point of time when time permits. She then proceeds to watch TV.

What really happened here?

  • Were there not enough phones in her budget?
  • Was she in a hurry to complete urgent errands?
  • Was the decision-making process overwhelming?

 

The answer is Sandra’s mind subconsciously induced a fear that she might choose the wrong option if she did not evaluate the pros and cons of all the options. The additional features such as the lightning-fast processor or the camera with image stabilization would make no difference to her if she thought about it rationally.

Though Sandra was aware that she would use the phone only for calling, texting, and a few simple apps, she still failed to narrow down on a choice. Why is that?

This is termed as per current slang “FOMO” or the Fear Of Missing Out. In fact, the term has now been added to the Oxford dictionary.

FOMO can paralyze your brain and stop it from making any decision because you run into the possibility of not making the best choice. This effect is multiplied with increased number of choices.

If you like the camera on one phone and the processor on the other but cannot find them both on one phone, FOMO also creates a want which you did not have before.

The Jam experiment

In the year 2000, an experiment was conducted in a supermarket where consumers were allowed to sample 24 varieties of jam before buying one. The next day, only 6 varieties were presented.

The result was, sales on day 2 were a whopping 10 times higher.

Correlation with everyday activities

This happens in a lot more simpler day to day decisions which we fail to realize. For example, ordering dinner was a simple 5-minute activity a few years ago. We had contact numbers of 3–4 restaurants in our vicinity which would be the go-to options. We would have few more for special occasions. The choice was plain and straightforward.

Today with the advent of technology and growing number of online food delivery portals, we now have more than a wide variety of restaurants to choose from. To add it to it, you can filter by cuisine, search by dishes, sort by price and refine by distance. From my personal experience, I have taken longer to order food than I previously used to.

In fact if I have a friend with me, I would be happy to have him take the responsibility of ordering food because I do not want to be fatigued by the decision making process.

Today’s teens have a variety of options available to choose from when it comes to dating. All you need is a good picture, a well-written bio, a finger to swipe right and you are a stud. There is no surprise that people with looks of Voldemort have expectations of Brad Pitt today.

There are many other examples: the types of yogurt, the varieties of refined oil, the brands of detergents, the options in shampoo to name a few.

That being said, there is a different perspective when you view it from another extreme. For example, if you walk into a store to buy a TV and you find one single TV, you are not sure if it is the best choice either. You start thinking if another store has a few more options at the same price or maybe even a better price. This has nothing to do with what you were looking for.

Even if the only option in the store does satisfy all your requirements and is well within your budget, you would still want to check other options to be certain. Greed kicks in.

Many departments tap this factor perfectly to drive more profit. Let us look at 2 examples below.

Which one would you choose?

Most people would choose the regular because:

  • Choosing the cheapest looks like he/she would appear stingy(though the waiter is least bothered)
  • Choosing the most expensive does not seem necessary(for no apparent reason)

Let us take a different example:

In this option, most would choose the Regular, because compared to the High End, the regular one seems to be a better fit. All you intend to do is to turn bread to toast and you quickly decide that the high-end option would not add any value.

Businesses know this very well and make the most of it. The regular coffee is priced to be the most profitable while the high-end toast maker exists only to drive more sales to the regular. Some brands do not even manufacture them and if you ask for it, they claim it to be out of stock.

Taking into consideration the availability of choices and the lack of them, it is about the balance of finding the sweet spot. The final story on the Paradox of Choice has not been written yet with both sides of the story having its own advocates.

In my personal experience, I have at times found myself taking longer to come to a decision when presented with a large number of options even though the final decision to be taken was of very little importance.

What can you do to avoid being overwhelmed by choices?

The key is to understand how important the decision is. Buying jam is not a significant decision for most unless you are running a high-end restaurant. A digital camera that produces images which are of 10% lesser quality than the best one in the market will not fetch you any lesser likes on Instagram. Planning your retirement plan, however, might require careful evaluation of options.

When faced with a multitude of options, do a quick check on how important the decision is and then delve further into the number of options you need to explore and the time you need to spend on making the decision.

At the end of the day, it is important to realize that it not always necessary to make a perfect choice. In many cases, the perfect choice does not even exist. Even if it does, it may not make a significant difference like it currently seems. After a certain amount of time has elapsed even the perfect choice seems no different than the others.

Above all, learn to love a “good” choice.

Please add your thoughts on how your decision making process is effected when multiple choices are available. Does it create a paradox of choice effect or not at all?

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