So Many Choices, So Little Time

BlackBerry phone maker RIM have taken a lot of heat lately as their market share, and share price, tumble. In RIM’s home country of Canada, some are even asking if RIM’s best years are behind it. Now we have a piece from Ian Austin, of the New York Times, about BlackBerry’s overwhelming lineup of phones. The sense is that having so many choices on offer hasn’t helped RIM one bit. Even RIM seems confused:

Features have proliferated on BlackBerrys as part of RIM’s move to the broader consumer market, and so have the number of models. Since 2007, RIM has introduced 37 models. The company, in a statement, said it did not know how many models were on the market.

RIM. Does. Not. Know. How. Many. Models. Are. On. The. Market.

Of course, the proliferation of choice problem has been studied and analyzed for quite some time now. Barry Schwartz wrote a landmark book on the topic, “The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less,” back in 2003. He also has a great TED talk on the subject (recommended). The upshot: when humans are faced with too many choices, they decide not to decide. Marketing prof Simona Botti informs us that too many choices can be frightening — and that people forced to make such choices are less satisfied than customers who have limited choice. In a consumer shopping study, meanwhile, Sheena Iyengar found that the reduction of choice actually leads to increased product sales.

What we found was that of the people who stopped when there were 24 different flavors of jam out on display, only 3% of them actually bought a jar of jam, whereas of the people who stopped when there were 6 different flavors of jam, 30% of them actually bought a jar of jam. So, if you do the math, people were actually 6 times more likely to buy a jar of jam if they had encountered 6 than if they encountered 24.

There you have it. Too much of a good thing is almost nothing at all. What’s really scary about the BlackBerry story, though, is what it says about RIM. They have methodically frightened themselves into utter stupidity. If they don’t know what they have on offer, how in hell are we supposed to?
Game over.

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