“The assumption is that if choice is good, more choice is better. That’s not necessarily true.”

As a consumer, I value my ability to choose. If I don’t like product A, but I need something with similar functionality, I can consider buying product B instead. If I do not agree with one politician, I can exercise my right to vote for the other guy. Choice is good. I think we can all agree on that.

However, as Barry Schwartz points out above, too much choice could easily lend itself to more trouble than what it’s worth. That’s precisely the premise behind The Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less, a book that Schwartz wrote a few years back. When we are faced with too many possibilities, we can find ourselves paralyzed by indecision. We can decide what we want.

Ironically enough, studies seem to indicate that people tend to buy more when they have fewer options. You would think that if there were more possibilities that it would be more likely for the consumer to find the product that best suits his or her needs and preferences. This isn’t necessarily true. I remember watching an interview with Schwartz where he brought up a fascinating example.

The context came from presale homes. People buy a house that is not yet built and they can consult with the contractor to choose the exact finishes and details in the home. When they are offered only three choices of kitchen countertop, for instance, they are more likely to “upgrade” to one of the two more expensive options. If they are offered ten different countertops, they typically spend less money than if they were offered the three choices.

I’m sure you’ve all had the experience of walking into a store, restaurant, or some other sort of business and being overwhelmed with too much information. You don’t know what to choose, because there is so much to consider. That’s why fine dining establishments typically offer a relatively limited menu; you only have a half dozen entrees to consider, rather than the War and Peace sized menu at Cheesecake Factory.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about Barry Schwartz, he’s an American psychologist whose editorials frequently appear in the New York Times. He takes his psychology research and applies to current events and contemporary concerns… like deciding what we want for lunch.