Stuck Between ‘Whispering White’ and ‘Dove White’? About to Cry? The Paradox of Choice Explained!
Imagine for a moment you are looking to repaint your living room. You have decided to paint it white to match your couch and your curtains. The only thing standing between you enjoying your freshly painted living room is a quick trip to your local Home Depot or Lowe’s for a couple of gallons of paint, some brushes, rollers, tape, and couple of hours of “joy.”
You arrive at your favorite home improvement store, grab a cart and head to the paint department. You’re doing it! You’re embracing your inner Chip and Joanna! You are your own DIY superstar!
And then, you find yourself faced by the most menacing foe you’ve ever imagined. No, it’s not Thanos, not Wiley Coyote, it’s not Eugene Harold Krabs (aka Mr. Krabs). It’s just a wall of paint swatches.
While it may not be visible from space, you feel like you’re staring at the Great Wall of Paint Swatches and their must be 1000 “whites.”
At this moment, you’re rethinking every decision you’ve ever made. But why?!
Because you’re now face-to-face with what Barry Schwartz coined as “The Paradox of Choice.”
So, what’s this paradox of choice? It’s the phenomenon that although we believe more choices lead to more freedom and greater satisfaction, too many options can result in indecision and stress. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?
Thinking is to humans as swimming is to cats; they can do it but they’d prefer not to. – Daniel Kahneman, psychologist & Nobel Prize winner
Although Barry Schwartz might have brought our attention to this “analysis paralysis” phenomenon, he isn’t alone. Other big thinkers, like Daniel Kahneman, have grappled with this concept. Kahneman once stated, “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.” Maybe that’s why you might break down in tears when choosing between “Whispering White” and “Dove White.”
When you apply this paradox to the world of marketing, things get even more interesting. Consider digital marketing, where the online world seems to offer an infinite number of choices. It’s no surprise we feel overwhelmed. As behavioral economist Dan Ariely puts it, “When given too many choices, people get overwhelmed. Consequently, they delay making decisions and are less satisfied with their eventual choices.”
If that’s true, why does it seem like the Amazon truck has taken up permanent residency outside my house? That’s because Amazon uses other mind tricks, like reviews (social proof), telling you how many items are left in stock (scarcity), and promising easy returns (guarantee). These tactics help move you through this paradox, all so you can acquire your very own burrito blanket.
Pro tip: give your customers nudges to help them decide.
So, the next time you witness someone paralyzed in the paint aisle, staring down “Pearl White,” “Ivory Lace,” or “Pure White,” remember the paradox of choice. You could even offer them an unsolicited review by saying, “I went with Dove White in a satin finish, and it looks great.” That might just be the “nudge” they need to escape by sundown.