I love ice cream shops.
I thoroughly dislike ice cream shops.
Yes, it is a love/hate relationship, not because of the product (which I love) but because of the choices (which I don't). Offering 40 flavors of ice cream may be a great reason for many to stop and check out a shop. For me it's reason to pass it by. It starts with the cone; sugar, cake, waffle? Do you want it coated in chocolate? Carmel? Rainbow sprinkles? Then I am left staring into long lines of freezers trying to narrow down my ice cream choice. Espresso fudge to watermelon, green tea to jalapeno, mint chocolate chip to mango. Too many to choose from. But there's more.
Some places have a huge selection of mix-ins. Candies, fruits and nuts are chopped and added to whatever flavor you've finally chosen and then…just when you think you are done…you have to choose from the range of toppings to finish off the creation. When you've made it through the line you have either a cacophony of flavors blending brilliantly together or a 'what-was-I-thinking' shake of the head.
I find myself in that same vortex when I look for something to watch at the end of a long day. My husband and I go through the "you choose", "no, you choose" dance as we click our way through thousands of options on one of the streaming services we have…only to end up watching something we've already seen. We're not alone. Despite new shows and movies continually being added, a lot of viewers end up returning to something they've watched before. Factors impacting that include time of day and day of the week, but others point to the overwhelming options that make it too difficult to make a decision. Customers end up going back to what they know.
We are a culture confronted by option overload. A popular coffee franchise boasts a 14-step on-line ordering system to help you navigate selections. Yes, 14 steps to get a cup of coffee. One of its competitors boasts 80,000 possible beverage combinations. My order? Small coffee. Black. I know, just think about what I am missing out on.
Which is the point. Saying 'yes' to one option causes us to re-think what we might be saying 'no' to, and we become ambivalent about our selection because something else may be so much better. While most businesses try to dazzle us with endless options, one company has been extremely successful by stocking fewer choices of any particular item. They work on the premise that offering customers too many options can be a deterrent to buying, and their success demonstrates they are quite correct. While their competitors offer upwards of 150,000 items, this company has less than 3,500. Some may disagree with the premise, but the proof is in their profits--which continue to rise.
One of the leading studies in this area found that customers presented with six varieties of jam were ten times more likely to buy a jar than those having to choose from 24 different jams. In another study, results of MRI scans indicate that when test subjects were given a selection of landscapes to have printed on a souvenir coffee mug, brain activity was highest when fewer options were given. Although we may think we want more options, it seems we're actually more comfortable, and more decisive, with fewer. We wear 50% of what is in our closets, and despite access to an abundance of ingredients, research suggests most of us rotate through about nine menu plans.
We can't read all the books, visit all the places, or taste all the ice cream we may wish to, but then again we shouldn't see that as limiting. We need to be bold and adventurous, excited and undaunted, but it means little if we're constantly looking to our left or right at what we might be doing instead. Far more important than worrying about what we might be missing, is finding delight in the moment and enjoying what we have. That's my outlook.