Spoilt by choice
We have an awful lot of choice these days. We make thousands of decisions, big and small, from which type of cereal to eat for breakfast, which outfit from our bulging wardrobes to wear, which school to send our children to, which form of transport to take to work, where to work, where to eat, what to eat, which car to buy, what type of insurance is best, and the list goes on…and on…
But do we have too much choice? Are we wasting time on minor decisions because we are overloaded with options? Does all this choice lead to certainty and happiness or merely unease, confusion and, sometimes, disappointment.
Let’s start with mascara. This sounds slightly crazy, I know, but bear with me. I wanted to buy new mascara so I searched through a catalogue from a make-up company. There were about seven different mascaras that, in essence, all did the same thing: they made lashes look longer and thicker. So why have so many options? I would have much preferred to be shown one tube of mascara that the firm could claim was the best mascara it could produce. I would have been happy to pay more for it as well.
And it is not just make-up that offers me too many options. Everything from car insurance to energy providers, to different types of sliced breads (“Best of Both” bread or “Best of Both Good Inside”? Why not have good inside all bread?) seem to offer so many options that I spend far too much time trying to work out which I want or need. I am often left with the slightly sinking feeling that I have made the wrong choice and there was an even better option elsewhere.
However, some companies are becoming wise to this: firms such as eve. Two friends who ran a luxury mattress business in the UK set it up after becoming disheartened by the industry. For them, there were just too many choices, too much jargon and the process of buying a mattress seemed to be a feat of endurance for the customer. So they decided to focus on one product. They wanted to make a mattress that would give everybody a great night’s sleep and to make the process of buying that mattress “simple and pleasurable”. To reassure the buyer that this one choice is the right one, if after 100 days you decide it is not the mattress for you, the company will refund you the money and pick it up for free.
In other sectors, such as software and technology, companies are also trying to simplify their offering. In particular in the ITSM and CRM sectors, where vendors are shifting their focus from offering whatever everyone else offers to all you will ever need functionality. Instead of creating tailor-made, toolbox-type software, that adds layers of complexity making it tricky to install and maintain, they are creating a single program that is intuitive, easy to install and integrate and easy to run – without the need for an IT department full of technical support staff. The power of cloud technology and SaaS has resulted in an explosion of choice – so much so, that people are keen to find a vendor that will take care of all their business software and technology platform needs – a yearning for simplified process, complexity and unified costs.
In consumer technology, Apple has been producing simple, intuitive software and hardware for years. Each product, starting from the iMac to the iPod, then the iPhone and now the Apple Watch, have all been designed with ease of use but great functionality in mind. Apple does not offer multiple iterations of the same thing, merely one with different size memories, or slightly different in size. The focus is always on making the consumer choice an easy one.
Too many options that are not significantly different can lead to confusion, dilution of a brand and even customer disappointment.
Please stop offering me so many products that all do the same thing. Let me choose your firm because what it offers is simply the best choice.