Choices and consumer anxiety

In America we are graced with an abundance of freedoms that are not always available or guaranteed in other countries. In addition to America’s cherished freedoms granted to citizens, modern Americans have the most freedom and wealth of choice than any other people in history and subsequently more autonomy.

Choosing and deciding for oneself is the very definition of freedom. Throughout the course of American history, groups of people have fought for their freedom to choose. Whether the choice be where they attend school, dine, or who their government representatives are, the power of choice has been and will remain a sought after freedom.

Despite the obvious advantages of numerous options and the freedom to choose that which fits the criteria for the best selection, the inundation of options has proved to be psychologically restrictive and selections less enjoyable.

Everyday there are decisions that need to be made ranging from where to eat in the Pioneer Crossing to what handheld device meets the desired specifications. While these choices might seem uncomplicated and straightforward, the amount of options and the individual considerations that accompany each option, serve as a source of added stress and anxiety.

Shopping for jeans at your local mall exemplifies this phenomenon. A seemingly straightforward process of finding the proper size and color has evolved into boot cut, slim, skinny, or carpenter. Am I a Devon, Kyle or Brett? With each section of pants there is more to consider and suddenly finding the bottom half of your daily attire has become a much more stressful.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz explores the effects of abundance of choice in his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. Schwartz found that the more options you have, the less you enjoy the selection you have made. The dissatisfaction stems from four different strategies and the psychological complications that accompany them.

Schwartz’ strategies; Choice and happiness, freedom or commitment, second order decisions and missed opportunities explain the nuances of common consumer feeling such as buyer’s remorse.

Abundant options allows for more potential selections to be equally appealing. The inherent appeal leads to indecisiveness in individuals which can be stressful, especially when a choice must be made with relative haste.

Consumers desire more options, which is why consumers are inundated in an ocean of options, add-ons, and up sells. Choice is a good thing but the anxiety that accompanies the selection process is too high a price.

America’s obsession with options will not come to a close anytime soon. As more products are curtailed to meet the needs of niche’ markets options will continue to increase as will the psychological tolls.