By Jack Sparacino
Most of us like having choices in life. Where to live, who to hang around with, what to do for a living, where and what to eat, what to wear, who to marry, etc. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that when people’s (and animals’) choices become too restricted, the result is often stress or at least boredom. Imagine having to eat in the same dreary dining hall or restaurant every single day and they always serve the same few items. Or traveling across the country and finding only one motel chain to chose from. Or having no options about your work. Anywhere, anytime. Or being in prison! Not a pleasant thought.
But I think we’ve gone overboard in the other direction in this country, at least when it comes to consumer choices. We seem to be half a life preserver short of drowning in choices and THAT can be stressful, too. Not to mention terribly time consuming if one bothers to actually wade through and evaluate all those possibilities.
Remember when there were only a half dozen or so brands of breakfast cereal? Wheaties, Shredded Wheat, Cheerios, you know the list. Fairly simple packaging, single portion size or regular, take your pick. Today, we confront an entire isle of different cereals. Healthy, sort of healthy, not all that healthy; fruits, no fruits, nuts, no nuts; flakes or buds or clusters, name or store brands — yowee! Or how about shampoos? Again, back in the day, we had just a handful or so of choices — Breck, Prell, Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo, a few others. Dry, normal, or oily hair, large or small bottle and you were finished thinking about it. OK, now try visiting your local drug or big box store. By the time you’ve even glanced at half the selections, you’re lucky if you still have hair and remember why you came into the store in the first place.
And on it goes. Soaps, cell phone plans, insurance policies, internet providers, cars and the 6.2 zillion potential options they come with, clothing types and colors and styles. We have to get out a calculator, or find the right issue of Consumer Reports, or call all our friends (OK, maybe use Facebook for the non- old fogie crowd) to at least avoid making an outright mistake. But we’d also like to select the item with the best value or appeal or functionality or whatever it is we’re really looking for.
So, I’m just asking — do we REALLY need 26 brands of toothpaste as noted on Wikipedia? Are 3.2 bazillion (alright, maybe only 1.5 bazillion) types of shampoos and hair care products really necessary? And what about 5,000 types of door handles (this was from an actual TV ad I saw recently)? FIVE THOUSAND!!!
Well, marketers tell us that consumers fall into many different groups or market segments, and that all those choices are just meeting the different customer preferences and demands out there. But maybe it’s time for some pushback. Maybe we need fewer choices overall but more really GOOD choices. I know, free markets tend to straighten all that out as poor choices tend to be (eventually) bypassed and fall by the wayside.
In the meantime, I’ve got a friendly challenge for someone under the age of 25 or so. Can we have an app that simply does the following things for us in real time:
1. Picks out only items meeting high quality standards (your standards and criteria, whatever they are).
2. Tells you which items offer lowest total cost (purchase price plus cost of ownership such as maintenance and disposal).
3. Lets you know where the item (and its subcomponents or “gazintas” as we used to call them) was made and where it’s serviced.
4. Lets you know if you can afford it and if not, what to do in the meantime.
5. Takes your order and has it shipped to you.
6. Gets your customer feedback and enters it immediately into a master, very user friendly database.
7. Shines your shoes, irons your shirts and tells you how wonderful you are.
Well, maybe we can skip that last one, but is there a Harry (or Harriet) Potter out there who can work some magic for us? And please don’t give me too many choices to pick from!
By Jack Sparacino