Too much choice. Too much confusion

When I visit the U.S I love going to the drug stores because they have so many choices on offer. Not that I buy a lot because, quite frankly, I can’t make up my mind which is the better product for me. I remember needing a headache tablet once and being confronted by so many kinds that I decided that my headache was getting worse just from reading all the labels. In the end, I walked out of the drug store without making a purchase.

I imagine that this happens quite often to shoppers who react negatively when confronted with too much choice. It all becomes too hard.

I have to admit that whilst I enjoy being able to have an amazing selection of products theoretically, it would be easier for me if there were fewer choices. After all, there is very little difference between the formulae of those analgesics. They are either paracetamol varieties, anti-inflammatories or those based on aspirin. And we are none the wiser about which prescription is suitable for our kind of ailment, even if we are prepared to stand in the aisle and read the blurbs for an hour.

So it was with great interest that I read an article from the Wall Street Journal about Wal-Mart’s and Walgreen’s decision to cut down on the variety of similar products e.g Wal-Mart are cutting out 20 out of the 24 different kinds of tape measures and Walgreen have cut out 14 of the 25 superglues that it carried.

How about hair products? How can it be possible to choose one shampoo from a selection of 88 Pantene hair products? And does it matter? Shampoo is shampoo no matter what miracle ingredient it claims to have. Do I want volume or do I want a root lifter which apparently will give my hair some volume as well? Do I want to tame my curls or let them run riot on my head? And even if I did know what I wanted there is no guarantee that any of these so-called special products would do the trick for me.

You might as well just close your eyes and pick one item at random.

I’m not advocating a return to the past when one just bought a cake of “soap” but we should get things into perspective. Even if we enjoy variety it isn’t always the best thing because it takes time to select a product and we really don’t know which is the best one for our needs even after we have bought it. It’s quite possible that we are missing out on a magic ingredient which could have been found in the product next to the one we finally bought.

I wish that the industrial chemists who create all these varieties would expend their energy on something which could really benefit mankind. It must be disheartening to have to spend your life adding some minor ingredient which might attract the customer and have to convince yourself that what you are doing is worthwhile.

It all seems such a waste of time and talent, but I guess that’s what competition is all about. Finding something to sell and persuading the shopper that this item is it. Until the new improved version comes out, that is. You know the one I mean. It’s greener, more hypo-allergenic, bio-degradable, 99.99% anti-bacterial and above all, NATURAL. There are no nasty chemicals in this product. Just cute and cuddly ones based on that miracle ingredient, H2O.

Do I believe the claims? Of course not. But will I try the new improved product anyhow? Perhaps. Maybe not today but next time I’ll be sucked in for sure. For people like me, life would be less complicated if there were fewer choices. I would still shop anyhow and perhaps I would buy more products if I didn’t have to go through the agony of deciding which is the right one for me.

p.s If you are interested in the subject of too much choice, I heartily recommend Barry Schwartz’s book, “The Paradox of Choice.”

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