I recently watched a lecture by Barry Schwartz, called ‘The Paradox of Choice’ (available at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice.html). He spoke about the complexity that is introduced to us as consumers by providing too many choices. He then introduces the analogy of buying a pair of jeans, describing in his day how choice was limited (within brands). One would purchase a pair of jeans and all you needed to do was choose the waist size. You wore them in until they became comfortable.
Nowadays, things are a bit different. One can choose the length of the leg, boot-cut, low-rise, slender-cut, loose-fitting, and the list goes on. He states, that in principal this is great, but consumers often walk away after buying a pair of jeans, wondering if they really have made a good choice – a case of post purchase dissonance.
While this may seem trivial, he then relates this to the US retirement fund industry. Employers are legally bound to contribute a certain amount of money to a retirement fund of the employees choosing. The trouble is that there are so many funds to choose from, employees are often confused and don’t choose any. This means that the employer does not then contribute any funds, and the employee will lose out, often to the tune of several thousand dollars.
So I got to thinking of how do these choices affect us on a daily basis? Not only the number of vendors selling the same product, but how a vendor tries to sell a product to you and I – arguably by trying to describe the product attributes in the product name.
For instance, let’s take a look at coffee, and say for instance I wanted to order a large filter coffee from Starbucks. First of all it’s called an ‘Americano’, so once I have figured that out I might order a ‘tall Americano’. It turns out that a ‘tall’ is actually the smallest size. Next on the list is the ‘grande’, which in Italian means ‘big’. But I would also be wrong because this is the medium sized one. The large one in fact is called a Venti.
How about buying a car? Which is better? A Fiat Punto Dynamic or a Punto Active? A Mercedes Benz C-Class Elegance, C-Class Classic, or C-Class Avantgarde?
I suppose car manufacturers are just too easy to single out. A concept you would be familiar with is First and Economy class on airlines. What about ‘Premium Economy’ available on Virgin Atlantic? Surely this is a contradiction in terms? How about super-sizing your MacDonald’s meal? Would you like a medium or large? What happened to the small?
So I am not sure if this taxonomy is meant to confuse, add an appearance of sophistication to products, or just make everyone feel like a winner – when in fact they could only afford to buy the cheapest or entry-level product in the line-up.