Friday, April 9, 2010

Overloading Options


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Why are there so many varieties of products on supermarket shelves when more options and more products don’t make us happier?

Schwartz describes his local supermarket in his book, The Paradox of Choice , “My neighborhood supermarket is not a particularly large store, and yet next to the crackers were 285 varieties of cookies. Among chocolate chip cookies, there were 21 options…” He continues to argue that more options produces a lengthier and more emotionally draining decision making process which results in a less rewarding shopping experience.

Schwartz describes how our mind filters out extraneous information enabling us to efficiently make decisions. Decision making would demand most of our time if we carefully analyzed ever decision. Our brain has limitations on filtering; decisions become even more difficult as more products are introduced as options. According to Schartz, in America, people are less happy with shopping and their purchases than those consumers who have fewer option. There is often a great feeling of buyer’s remorse in the American consumer. Thus, he argues, “the fact that some choice is good doesn’t necessarily mean that more choice is better...there is a cost to having an overload of choice."

If more options and more choices aren’t driven by the consumer’s demand what are they driven by? Sut Jhully, a professor at the University of Massachusetts explains how excessive production and consumption of goods is a byproduct of capitalism which can only be maintained through marketing. Marketing is needed to fill in the gap between production and consumption. Since consumers have no true need for 21 different types of chocolate chip cookies, or 200 types of headphones, marketing is used to encourage consumers to buy more. Jhullyexplains, “It's no accident that the rise of modern advertising coincides with the rise of mass production. As capitalism became better and better at making more and more stuff, it required new methods that would convince people to keep buying."

This concept coincides with the a German study and on food diversity, “The econometric analysis of 4632 households suggests that variety significantly increases with income …” Thus those who are able to afford more diversity in food do so.

In my Ecology and Society class we watched the film“The Story of Stuff” by Annie Leonard. She explains how we live in a society in which the focus is on profit for corporations rather than on societal happiness. These corporations make profits by increasing production. Leonard explains in her witty video, work watch spend cycle, “ so we are in this ridiculous situation, in which we go to work, maybe two jobs even ...so we come home and we are exhausted, so we plop down on the couch and watch more TV which tells us, You Suck, so you go to the mall buy more stuff, and then go to work more to pay for the stuff you just bought" More options don’t make us happier and neither do more products.

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