The paradox of choice

This book by Barry Schwarz was the topic of discussion for the Innovation Reading Circle on 8 October at the Channel 4 offices in London. The subtitle of the book is ‘Why less is more – How the culture of abundance robs us of satisfaction’. Using many examples from psychology studies, Schwarz describes how consumers are nowadays so swamped by consumption choices that it may keep them in limbo over silly details. They get frustrated, disappointed, anxious and generally unhappy. He blames the consumerist society for the increased percentage of depressed people in the US.

Picture_1 Although the descriptions of the various psychological concepts are very interesting (e.g. maximizers vs, satisficers, and downward vs. upward counterfactual thinking), the overall thesis of the book is a bit weak. Schwarz does not refer to any other circumstances than personality traits to explain the complexity of consumer decision making. What about the influence of product category involvement, or the influence of specific service situations? With his urge to make a connection to the depression index in the US, Schwarz seems to jump to an over-simplified solution of psychological self-help guidelines for how to cope with abundant choice. This is a shame, because the topic of consumer choice in complex environments with abundant options is an interesting one and worth the effort to reflect on. The book sparked a lively debate during this meeting of the Reading Circle.