Like Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner, I found Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice very persuasive — even though one of my favorite free market commentators seems to equate Schwartz with the devil (here and here). In a recent blog post, Dubner cites new research that runs counter to Schwartz’s argument that too much choice often leads to paralysis and unhappiness. It’s interesting, but it’s only from one sources and seems pretty limited.
What I can’t figure out is why there’s not more debate and research taking place on this issue, which seems so critical for economists, marketers, product managers, usability and design experts, and plenty of others in business and academia. How many choices to offer its users / customers / donors / etc. seems like a decision almost every organization faces in some area at some point; many face it constantly.
And it’s not just makers of jam or chocolates. I’ve struggled with this issue with my resume writing service — where I think we’ve gone from offering 2 packages, to 3, to none (custom-only), back to 2, back to 3, and for now to 6, with a frequent temptation to go back to 3. And Karan and I have wrestled with the “choice question” on our customer review site — where I’ve seen in usability sessions that offering multiple ways to respond to a recommendation request causes confusion and frustration.
My datasets are unfortunately too small to provide clear evidence. But with the growing ability to measure conversions and sales so effectively on the Web, and the growing ability to run scientific A/B tests (e.g. show 50% of website visitors 5 choices, show the other 50% 2 choices), large companies with large dollars at stake surely must have some results on this that would illuminate the debate — so that those of us interested don’t have to keep reading about jam. Or have I just missed them?