Ralphs shoppers aren’t overwhelmed by 724 kinds of produce because they don’t experience every variety as a separate choice. The exotic fruits are grouped together, as are the potatoes and yams, the lettuce bags, and the apples. Godiva sells its chocolates in selections–nuts and caramels in one box, dark chocolates in another, truffles in another–not piece by piece. Businesses have strong incentives not just to offer options but to help customers navigate those choices.
Outside the artificial constraints of a psychology experiment, people adapt pretty effectively to proliferating choices. We go back to our favorite restaurant and order the same dish because we know we’ll like it. We find a toothpaste that suits us and stick to it. We don’t always choose anew.
Will customers trust businesses to select for them? If too much choice alienates you, won’t the store put the high-margin items on the front table right before your eyes? Maybe so, but competition across firms should limit such mark-ups. And if the mark-up gets too high, people will cope. Schwarz himself notes: “A small-town resident who visits Manhattan is overwhelmed by all that is going on. A New Yorker, thoroughly adapted to the city’s hyperstimulation, is oblivious to it.”
The bottom line: I’m still upset that Rainier cherries — finer than caviar to my depraved, barbecue- and curry-obsessed palate — are available for only a few months a year. Comments are open.