Choice anxiety

Whatever you want, whenever you want it.

Choice is abundant — AWESOME (#not).

The opportunities are endless and exponentially growing. From increasing multiculturalism and the impact on our cuisine options, to greater access to shops locally and globally offering anything and everything you could imagine.

The ability to select products, services and experiences best matching ‘you’ and your own special needs is potentially better than EVER.

Commercial enterprises are always thinking of the next innovation to offer more choice, better than the previous choices. And, our governments are changing funding and other models to give the choice to the consumer — e.g. NDIS and My Aged Care.

You have the power to choose what is best for you!

However, is an abunance of choice actually creating more anxiety than freedom?

This may be low level anxiety as to what to do today or picking a meal at a restaurant, bottle of wine from a shop of 100’s of options, or a show as part of an Arts festival. Or, higher level choice anxiety when considering big decisions such as buying a home, a new car, starting a business, picking a university or school or changing career direction.

Anxiety: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.

Human nature tends towards being a procrastinating commitment probe, and this is largely from choice anxiety.

“People typically move slowly from starting to think about a behaviour change (precontemplation to contemplation), balancing the pros and cons and risk-reward to trigger a desire to change (preparation)” ( From Groundhog Day, Gamification and Commitment-Phobia)

Unless absolutely necessary, people stick to their habitual defaults — “I like this style of music.” “When I get a pizza I get …” “I don’t like …” “I do like …”

We can all recall that time when we picked the wrong choice at a restaurant, attempting to try something different, and end up suffering a little choice sadness or envy wishing you had ordered what others at the table selected. Or, choice depression or dispair thinking back at your regrett at picking the wrong bank, insurance company, builder, pair of jeans or special bottle of wine. Making the wrong choice can really suck.

Preparing to changing a behaviour away from one’s entrenched defaults and preferences is hard even with the most desire to try something new. Choice overload can make the whole risk-reward, pros-and-cons assessment so hard, it is best or at least easiest to just make your usual choice or no choice. People will therefore long delay or defer key decisions from swapping to a better bank, trying a new experience or bigger economic investment until they feel more comfortable, or they have no choice but to change.

People typically do not want more choice, they just want the right choice.

However, everyone is different …

“It means that you feel like you are getting a good deal, because everyone has different standards and expectations.” (Square Holes in-home research participant)

Therein lay the challenge for business and government — how to most efficiently assist people to make the right choice (e.g. to select their product, service, experience et cetera). Often this isn’t a choice of least price, but a choice of least anxiety and absence of choice depression, despair or regret.

Consistently through my consumer research, people talk of their frustration at how hard it is to select everything from arts performances, to banking, grocery products, home builders to tiles, how to best spend a day at the zoo, picking a gift or bottle of wine.

So, the opportunity for innovation is likely not more choice, but using systems, people, processes and technology to improve perceived risk and hopefully eliminate choice anxiety. This is partly about research approaches such as choice modelling, but more so about empathetic customer pathway modelling and enhancement.

How do we make the right choice easy?

For example, word-of-mouth continues to be the most trusted and relied on form of choice anxiety reduction and add to this other trusted advisors such as doctors and accountant.

Messenger: We are heavily influenced by who communicates information.

However, it is important to note that from our research there is an ever increasing scepticism towards commission based ‘trusted advisors’ such as financial planners, home-loan brokers, commercial referral websites and others receiving a commission for recommendations. Unfortunately, such services are the best alternative, but still are often only mediocre at best in overcoming choice anxiety.

More likely the answer is leverage the experiences of trusted family, friends and others like themselves, PLUS providing clear defaults and pathways to find the best product, service or experience suiting them. To empower the consumer to find the best product, service or experience smoothly, efficiently and with little delay.

Defaults: We ‘go with the flow’ of pre-set options.

Allow people to smoothly, quickly and efficiently step through the necessary and otherwise stressful steps of making choices …

  1. Defining what matters.
  2. Committing to a direction.
  3. Rationalising the direction.
  4. and ever Learning

Think Netflix and “suggestions for you ” or browse on Apple Music based on data analytics from the music you play. Data analytics and Artificial Intelligence are ever improving to potentially assist people in making choices. And, empathic steps to allow people to find what is best for them without choice anxiety, and even hopefully leaving a sense of wanting to try something new without procrastination, fear or perceived risk.

The opportunities are endless.

Old retail is fading as online makes choice easier. Yet, banking and most other commercial enterprises continue to fail, more so adding to mental health issues than playing any part in reducing choice anxiety and depression.

And, think about the wrongness of government moves to allowing greater levels of choice through programs like NDIS and My Aged Care, which more so create anxiety and even depression from really just wanting that right choice but having to navigate through an overwhelming choice system, which is complex to navigate for our most vulnerable.

Clearly some people are more open to random, new and the unexpected and able to better deal with the disappointment of a poor choice. Factors such as one’s wealth, income or time impact the care factor around choices gone wrong — “when you eat out every night, you will occassionally get a bad meal.” Plus, some are more predispositioned or motivated to make choices, deal with the consequences and do it again and again, and again, as that’s how the choose to live.

My mind boggles with excitement at the abundance of opportunities for the vast majority who suffer some level of choice anxiety. The economic benefits of making if easier and less stressful to trust the system (and even encouraging people to feel comfortable selecting ‘surprise me’) are absolutely endless — commercial, government, media, arts, education, products, services and experiences.

This is where the next big innovation should come from.


Want more?

If you liked this, you are sure to like these by me …

How to chance behaviour

Groundhog Day, Gamification and Commitment-Phobia

Procrastination and predicting the future

Plus a few hand picked talks …

Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice

Malcolm Gladwell: Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce

Renata Salecl: Our unhealthy obsession with choice

Please leave any comments as to your perspective etc.

Thanks for reading to the end!

Also posted on LinkedIn here.