I just read this really interesting article on a fairly recent psychology book called The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz. I haven’t read it, although I might give it a shot after I’m finished reading the baby books I’ve already committed to. It appears to provide a breadth of common sense knowledge for anyone who’s ever shopped for a digital camera, decided on a school, dived head-first into the world of parenting, or made any kind of decision at all—significant or not—in today’s increasingly choice-based world.
Using the concept of “maximizers” and “saticficers” Schwartz argues that sometimes it is best not to go crazy searching for the absolute best possible solution to a problem. In his world, which appears to be largely supported with data, having too much choice is a problem with certain consquences. Having more choice, its seems, can be overwhelming.
Ostensibly, and possibly more than interesting by itself, this theory can extend to nearly all areas of decision making, even web page design.
Take any of the most commercially successful websites – Amazon.com, for example – and look at what they offer. Click Bestsellers; down come 20. My view is, when people look at 20 book titles, each of them is competing with the others, making the others less attractive. This one looks exciting, this one looks educational, this one is about my own childhood, but this one is exotic and will take me into a world of imagination. Each is attractive in some way.
The result is that you look at 20 and buy none. But what if Amazon did a simple experiment of not showing 20 books, but only the top five? You can always click to the next screen and see more. My prediction is that if you reduce the choice set, you increase the number of books sold. This should be true of anything you’re selling – office chairs, CD players, vacation packages; the shorter the list, the more attractive the items on the list will be.