It is time for a new smart phone. My iPhone 3 has been losing one function at a time due to wear and tear. Last week I realised that I could no longer turn off the phone, two nights ago the volume control stopped working. I thought that buying a new phone would be a fun and easy activity.
A visit to the local Westfield to check out smart phones left me overwhelmed. With 40 phones to choose from and just an hour up my sleeve to choose the right phone, a quick decision was necessary. For me, a phone is not just a piece of plastic/metal with a fancy screen and some buttons on the side. A phone isn’t just a purchase, but rather more like an adoption. The phone that I choose would be another member of my family…. it would follow me around for most of the day, live in my handbag, have a safety case, be invited to all family events, take pictures of my family, video birthdays and graduations, text my friends, call my parents. A phone is my ‘digital’ best friend.
So after chatting with the smart phone expert at one of the leading mobile phone shops, I decided that I just wasn’t ready to buy. There was too much choice. I needed to go home and do a little bit more research and figure out what were the most important features for me. Did I want to just purchase the new iPhone 5 and then realise that the Samsung Galaxy S3’s camera was better, or would the Sony Xperia Z suit my needs because it’s waterproof and that would surely protect my phone if one day the kids were to decide to put the phone in the fish tank, or worse, the toilet?
This scenario isn’t uncommon. When customers are presented with too many choices, a phenomenon called ‘choice paralysis’ occurs. It can be easier to make no choice than to make a choice that you will regret post purchase. Studies have shown that people are attracted to variety, but find it easier to choose a product and complete the purchase when there are a smaller number of choices available. Post purchase regret is also less of a factor when the amount of choice is less.
So what’s the perfect amount of choice? 2-3 items, or 9-10 items, or somewhere in between? Does it vary for the type of product? Marketers must determine how to frame products to make customers feel that they have been offered enough variety but not too much choice to make a customer second guess their purchase.
I still haven’t decided which phone to buy but I have narrowed the possible 40 phones down to two finalists. I no longer feel as overwhelmed with choice because I have taken the time to research my decision. This luxury of product research does not occur for all the products that I buy, but for this purchase I wanted to get it right.
When did you feel like you were overloaded with choice and decided to walk away from a purchase rather than have post purchase regret?
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School