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“The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Oct 14th, 2020

In his book, Barry Schwartz, who is an American psychologist, comprehensively examined the psychological aspects of the problem of choice faced by people in different spheres of life, ranging from the choice of goods and ending with the choice of profession, education, friends, religion and other. The book dwells upon and analyses the behavior of different types of people (in particular, maximizers and satisficers) facing the rich choice (Schwartz 2004).

The author referred to various studies for determining to what type most of the people belong. Most importantly, the writing showed the advantages and disadvantages of having a large number of options and gave tips on making optimal decisions. The book was written based on the American material realities; however, it is assumed that it may be useful and applicable for the majority of buyers and marketers as many of the problems described in this area are common.

Abundance of Options

Barry Schwartz studied the behavior of “maximizers” (those who seek to have all the best) and the “satisficers” (those who are happy with a purchase that is good enough but not the best) in the standard purchasing environment. He came to the conclusion that in a setting with a huge variety of options, finding the best option frequently leads to a paralyzing condition because the only way to determine the best choice is to explore every available alternative (Schwartz 2004).

For instance, the author gave an example when students were offered either six or thirty different themes for the written assignment. As a result, most of those who were offered only six variants were able to write a paper and showed better results while not all of the students, who were asked to choose from the thirty options, we’re able to write something at all.

During the study, Dr. Schwartz found that people who strive for the selection of all the best in their life (maximizers) were depressed and less happy more often; he explained that the decision would take them much longer, and they would be less satisfied with the choice made rather than the people choosing reasonably good products or goods. Meanwhile, the satisficers are able to choose from a variety of options as they do not need to overanalyze every possible variant and compare and contrast myriads of commodities.

The author argued that a glut of different versions of the same product makes it impossible to choose a single item as human consciousness becomes congested, which, in turn, suppresses a human (Schwartz 2004). Permanent decision-making in all areas of life is becoming more difficult and tedious because of the overabundance of alternatives. There is an evident paradox: an abundance of the assortment of goods and services limits the freedom of choice.

According to the author, people find freedom by learning to make the right choices about what is crucial at the same time, relieving the burden of excessive concern that does not matter (Schwartz 2004). However, it is important to mention that, in such a situation, it becomes difficult to decide what does matter. Dr. Schwartz suggested practical steps that could reduce the variety of choice (through the prism of necessity and rationalism) to a reasonable level and develop the habit of focusing on the important alternatives.

The book examines the main problem of marketing. It says that effective positioning actually helps the customer to free up time and energy for life outside the supermarket. Quite frequently, the buyer receives negative experience when shopping because of the wrong choice due to the fact that there is always something better or cheaper; and because the pleasure of owning a purchase does not meet expectations (Schwartz 2004). Moreover, the variety of products is contrary to rational arguments, according to which the addition of options can make society more prosperous.

Schwartz believes that the civil culture ‘sanctifies freedom of choice so profoundly that the benefits of infinite options seem self-evident’ (Schwartz 2004, p. 21). Feeling irritated during a shopping trip, the customers ‘are likely to blame it on something else – surly salespeople, traffic jams, high prices, items out of stock – anything but the overwhelming array of options’ (Schwartz 2004, p. 21). Nevertheless, an abundance often leads to frustration. Moreover, in order to make a competent purchase, the consumers are forced to study in detail the future deal. It is much easier to choose something worse rather than good because a bad option is always clearer than the best one.

According to the book, it is particularly difficult for the maximizers to choose. As an alternative to perfectionism, Schwartz proposes to strive for the behavior of satisficers (Schwartz 2004). Maximizers, for example, are sure to evaluate the experience of others, and satisficers do not need to do so as they only need a sufficient internal evaluation. The author also talks about the adaptation problem faced by virtually all consumers: the problem lies in the rapid disappearance of the pleasure of a new purchase.

The Paradox of Choice

Barry Schwartz confirmed the usability of the theory of a limited choice, arguing that, in the current economic conditions, more successful (effective) are such solutions that involve consumers in a limited choice between alternatives or in a complete lack of choice (Schwartz 2004). Thus, the limited amount of options implies effectiveness but not the reverse. Analyzing the book, the following aspects of the impact of the limited choice can be identified:

  1. Individual psychological fatigue from the freedom of choice is a consequence of oversaturation.
  2. Restrictions on the freedom of individual choice help reduce diversity.
  3. As a consequence of the reduction of choice, an increase in the efficiency of individual choice is highly possible.
  4. As a result of the increased efficiency, an increase in the individual psychological satisfaction from the selection process is possible.

It should be noted that Dr. Schwartz has brought negative aspects of a variety of choices to several features:

  • Paralysis of analysis;
  • Buyer’s remorse;
  • The tiredness of decision-making.

It can be argued that the expansion of choice can lead to poor user experience. Accordingly, it is possible to improve the customer experience if minimizing the number of calls to action for the purchasers. In addition, the book emphasizes that the wider the range of commodities for the clients, the less confident they feel after making the purchase. This can be explained by the fact that with the rich diversity, buyers’ expectations get too high and after the purchase, they start analyzing whether the best choice was made or not, which is natural in that situation because it is impossible to assess quickly and effectively what is the best choice from the huge number of options.

Moreover, it is logical that buyers start experiencing fatigue from decision-making gradually. People need to make a large number of important and even a bigger number of insignificant decisions every day; consequently, they do not want to spend their energy on choosing between something insignificant (Schwartz 2004).

Issues to the Question

People get lost when they are offered too many options at the same time. They tend to go to such places where the selection is smaller, and it is easier to determine what to buy (Schwartz 2004). Large assortment makes people not only passive but also does not allow experiencing the satisfaction of a good deal. The main reason for the negative experience with a wide choice is the lack of information, especially when it comes to the important and complex issues. When people have difficult choices, they face a mass of information, which they may not understand in consequence of which they become irritated.

They have to make a choice among these alternatives, the meaning of which they are not fully aware of or do not understand at all (Schwartz 2004). At the same time, people often do not have the time or opportunity to analyze each option in detail; thus, they quickly lose the desire to take steps to make their final choice. It turns out that the lack of cognitive resources makes the process painful. Potential buyers become lethargic and go back to where it is all clear and familiar even to the detriment of their wallets. To avoid such consequences, it is necessary to limit the choice and force consumers to make an informed purchase.

Personal Opinion

Despite a large number of arguments that excess options actually prevents consumers from buying as a result of the feeling of options congestion, it cannot be stated that this conclusion is universal. Many companies are successful due to the rich assortment. For instance, Starbucks offers a great number of variants and flavor combinations, which is valued by the majority of customers; every morning, many people who start their day with Starbucks can be met in their stores.

In addition, when going to any supermarket, one can see a huge selection of different varieties of toothpaste and shampoos. However, the marketing strategy of these companies is based on a thorough study of the preferences of the targeted market. Moreover, considering a large number of facts and arguments in favor of Dr. Schwartz’s conclusions, it seems obvious that the circumstances make a choice counterproductive.

However, despite the results, it is impossible to state exactly what led to such an outcome. The book was written more than a decade ago, respectively, the generation of customers and their preferences and behavior has changed; thus, it cannot be assumed that the findings presented in the book are universal. It is also possible to argue that a variety of options gives people more confidence in the final selection.


The analysis of the findings of Dr. Schwartz leads to the conclusion that when people are faced with an overwhelming multitude of alternatives, each of which is different from the other one in some way, the selection process becomes very painful (Schwartz 2004). As a consequence of it, people need to find out what distinguishes one item from another and how one option is better than the other one. As a result, buyers are incapable of making decisions at all or do not feel the proper satisfaction of the selection.

It can be stated that the only way to find a considerable medium is to carry out research that will offer people a different number of options and then track their actions, how much time they spend on the selection and choosing, and how satisfied they are with their choice afterward. High standards are quite difficult to please and, if being able to settle for good enough, people will be more capable of making decisions, and the results will bring more satisfaction.


In general, the science of choosing is only in the process of formation. It is essential that in the coming years, more profound and crucial studies to user behavior data will be deepened and refined. It can be presumed that the psychology of decision-making is a complex area. With the steadily increasing number of choices, the feeling of satisfaction increases at first, and then it reaches saturation.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that the lack of choice leads to disappointment, the increased amount of consumer possibilities results in the rise of negative emotions that start to dominate inevitably. The emotional state as a whole is changing due to an increase in choices; thus, the subjective sense of happiness decreases. Subsequently, the two questions can be raised: how to position the products according to the targeted market so as to reach a sufficient assortment without a loss in quality; and how to measure customer satisfaction?

Reference List

Schwartz, B 2004, The paradox of choice, Harper Collins, New York.

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