Despite the assumption that more choice provides more freedom and, therefore, greater happiness, what has been found is that more options limit our freedom.


You come home mentally tired from your day, and you want to relax and watch a good series. You have finished your last series and need to choose a new one. You start with Netflix and flick through the series and films, and nothing grabs your attention. You try Stan, same result, then PrimeVideo. Two hours later, you are even more tired, and now you are frustrated and annoyed. You grumble to your partner that there is nothing to watch. The reality is, there are hundreds of programs on, but you are most likely suffering from the paradox of choice.


The phrase "the paradox of choice" was popularised by an American psychologist Barry Schwartz in his 2004 book "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less" [1]  As a psychologist, Schwartz was interested in the way economics and psychology intersect and how multiple choices affect the happiness of people.

Despite the assumption that more choice provides more freedom and, therefore, greater happiness, what has been found is that more options limit our freedom for two reasons. Firstly, there is the difficulty of knowing what the best choice is, and secondly, having more choices means the decision-making process is more complicated, and we are less likely to be satisfied with our choice [2].


In the example in the opening paragraph, I mentioned the fact you were mentally tired before you started trying to choose what film or series to watch. 

We often do not consciously factor decision-making fatigue into how many decisions we make and when we make them. One of the reasons for this is seeing our brains as similar to computers that keep running. Computers do keep running, providing the source of electricity remains stable and continuous.

This is where our brains differ because they are impacted by things such as blood sugar levels, which are affected by when and what we eat. Our emotional states, particularly anxiety, can impact our decision-making ability. 

The more decisions we have to make, the more we will experience decision-making fatigue and the less likely we will decide when presented with too much choice. One way to reduce decision-making fatigue is to consciously reduce the number of decisions we have to make every day. This is why male politicians will often wear the same colour suit and tie. When they don't have to decide what to wear each day, it is one less decision they aren't being fatigued by.

How do we apply the paradox of choice in our business?


There are several ways we can assist clients in their decision-making processes. We will consider three.

  1. Understand your client
  2. Test and learn your brand assets
  3. Understand the architect of choice


Do you understand what your client wants from your business? One of the dangers of client avatars is that businesses create them in their own image. Their ideal client is who they want their customers to be rather than who the customers are. We have written previously on the customer and the avatar

In understanding our clients, we need to have a nuanced approach—for example, context matters [3]. A mum or dad racing into Woolies or Coles to grab a few items for dinner on their way home from work doesn't want to be overwhelmed with choices. Moving items to a different aisle can create annoyance and irritation because the customer usually wants to get in, get out and get home.

If your business is online, then people are generally expecting more choices. This is where augmented reality (AR) can assist customers and your business. For example, if you are selling lounges for a customer to see the lounge in different coloured fabric from the comfort of their own home, it can assist in the customer's decision-making process.

This is an example of where customers buying patterns have changed. Decisions are generally made online and finalised in the store.


Does your website provide too much information too quickly, or does it not provide sufficient information for a person landing on your website to know what they should do?

Are you clear about what you want your client to do when they come to your webpage? Are you clear about the top one or two problems you solve for your client? More importantly, are you clear about your solution's value to your client? Ultimately, we all purchase products or services for the perceived value they provide to us.

If we take the example of buying a lounge, the person is purchasing the lounge they see themselves sitting on with their mates watching sport, chatting to friends, or lying covered with a blanket having a night watching a film by themselves. The lounge comes attached with the values of friendship, mateship, relaxation, and comfort.

Hence, as businesses, we need to be clear about our product, the problem it solves and the value we provide. When we are clear about these things, our marketing materials will reflect that clarity and assist clients in navigating choices.


When we understand our clients or customers and are clear about the problem we solve and the value we provide, it becomes easier to set up structures that assist clients in making decisions they are satisfied with.

Given that one of the consequences of the paradox of choice is that people are generally less satisfied with their decisions, it makes good business sense to assist clients in making decisions they are happy with. Why?

Because it builds brand loyalty, we satisfy the satisfiers and assist the maximisers and maximise their choices. The satisfiers are those customers who are satisfied with a good enough decision, while the maximisers are those who must make the best decision possible [4].

We need to know our customers or clients, their pain points, what solutions they are seeking, and the values they give to those solutions. We need to be clear about our language and how we structure choices; otherwise, our business can be impacted by the paradox of choice.