September 1, 2011

"I just want regular jeans. You know, the kind that used to be the only kind.”

This is the anecdote that begins Barry Schwartz's book "The Paradox of Choice." He "spluttered" that after a Gap salesgirl asked him if he wanted "slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit, baggy, or extra baggy... stonewashed, acid-washed, or distressed... button-fly or zipper-fly?" His anguish was supposed to exemplify a big problem we have these days.
By creating all these options, the store undoubtedly had done a favor for customers with varied tastes and body types. However, by vastly expanding the range of choices, they had also created a new problem that needed to be solved. Before these options were available, a buyer like myself had to settle for an imperfect fit, but at least purchasing jeans was a five-minute affair. Now it was a complex decision in which I was forced to invest time, energy, and no small amount of self-doubt, anxiety, and dread.

Buying jeans is a trivial matter, but it suggests a much larger theme we will pursue throughout this book, which is this: When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy, control, and liberation this variety brings are powerful and But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.
Get a grip, Barry! I feel like Barry I-just-want-normal-jeans Schwartz was the guy who inspired one of my favorite songs:



That was linked to in the comments — by bagoh20 — over on the Obama and the Packers post:
When I think of Obama and sports I always am reminded of this video that Althouse showed quite a while back. I watch it ever now and then, and I don't know why.
Why you watch it... or why Obama and sports reminds you of it? You watch it because it's so infectious. And comforting. And infectiously comforting, like friendly jeans. It reminds you of Obama and sports, I think, because you've had this picture in your head for so long: "Obama Celebrates Win By Riding Bike." He was a winner, about to coast downhill, and the regrettable jeans were the first foreshadowing of a failed presidency. He was not, as we'd thought, the hero. He was the man in Randy Normal Jeans. And then there are the dance moves:



They were so cool at the time, but now? I'm seeing Randy.

132 comments:

Carol_Herman said...

Jeans used to be made in America! And, when they became an American staple they were still made in America!

Also, once, if you traveled to Europe, and you were wearing jeans ... people would come over to you to ask if you'd sell them to them.

Now? More available. Even in sizes to fit babies. But garments aren't made in America, anymore.

Also, when we were watching the looters ... what I saw being stolen were pairs and pairs of jeans!

Heck, even when your jeans get old and ripped ... somebody else will pay money for them.

How can you bemoan choices?

It's the MARKETPLACE. And, DEMAND! You want the Gap to lose business? Jeans are a big seller!

Too bad even the mills aren't in America, anymore.

E.M. Davis said...

How dare you besmirch the name of Randy Normal Jeans by comparing him to the MJWPOTUS.

rhhardin said...

With lots of choice, you can't rely on the market having made reasonable main-stream choices for you. Your odds of getting something unsatisfactory go up as a result.

The market took the place of user ratings, by eliminating what's unprofitable to most.

As to jeans, I never buy anything that can't go in the wash with everything else in one load every two weeks.

Which I'm about to do, by the way.

Chip S. said...

I don't remember if Schwartz's book addressed the problem of excessive variety in books.

chickenlittle said...

Freedom of choice, is what you've got...freedom from choice, is what you want!
~Devo (1980)

Joe Schmoe said...

Ann says: He was not, as we'd thought, the hero.

Ummm, speak for yourself, Kemo Sabe.

Curious George said...

I don't know about all that. I just get Levi's red-tab. These days the 560's (I call them the "fat-ass cut). I also no longer ponder "how do I look" but instead "man these are comfortable".

exhelodrvr1 said...

At least you're just seeing randy and not feeling him.

Triangle Man said...

Schwartz is just angling for Andy Rooney's job. Complain about something that most people would consider a good thing.

Conserve Liberty said...

I guess in my dotage I am returning to my youth.

As each pair of Wrangler traditionals or Levi's 501's wears out I replace it with a pair of $50 chinos. They fit, they're durable and they go with EVERYTHING.

I think that decision falls under the conserve part.

franglo said...

Bit premature to call it a failed presidency, don't you think? He's got a whole other term to go.

Scott M said...

At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates.

It only debilitates so long as one is vacuous enough to completely negate the fact that others in this world aren't well-off enough to afford good pants, let alone jeans, let alone designer jeans.

Context, people.

TosaGuy said...

"Now it was a complex decision in which I was forced to invest time, energy, and no small amount of self-doubt, anxiety, and dread."

If our so-called betters can't pick out a pair of jeans, how can they run the lives of the rest of us?

MaggotAtBroad&Wall said...

The pure free market Austrian economists like Mises talk about "consumer sovereignty". That is, consumers get to vote every day with their dollars which products, businesses and industries survive which fail.

If more consumers were like Barry and unable to cope with too many choices, there would be fewer choices. But there is enough demand for each of the various choices that poor Barry has the good fortune to choose from, that manufacturers keeping manufacturing them, the distributors keep warehousing them, and the retailers keep stocking them.

It's entirely up to the consumer to decide which products survive in the market and which ones don't. Barry gets his vote, but so do the other 310 million of us.

At least this was how the world operated before the government started picking winners and losers.

Chip S. said...

If our so-called betters can't pick out a pair of jeans, how can they run the lives of the rest of us?

Simple.

ndspinelli said...

One irony is the myriad of choices we have in the marketplace and only 2 viable choices in elections.

Regarding the jeans experience, what I am sick of from clerks, servers, etc. are all the fucking questions! And, many of the questions are just a thin veneer of service, it's almost always sales.

Bill said...

Actually, the first thing that came to my mind was Apple's bewildering array of model names and numbers during the 90's (Performa 467, Centris 660AV, Quadras, etc.). Over time, they have managed to slice down to a fairly basic product line that is pretty easily understood - Mac mini, iMac, Mac Pro, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, with a relatively small number of variants of each (mostly based on screen size or CPU speed). And the number of iPod/iPhone models has stayed relatively small as well. Maybe this doesn't help in every market, but I think it has served Apple well.

t-man said...

This had me laughing. From the bike-riding article:

Presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama has won our admiration before, thanks to ... his eagerness to address climate change, as exemplified by the fact that he would want Al Gore to help him on climate issues.

jrberg3 said...

Come on, how can you not envision this awful showing when you combine Obama, sports and jeans:

Obama's All-Star Pitch 2009

Epic fail on jeans and the pitch! And the All-Star game stinks now as well.

ndspinelli said...

Curious, The first two questions regarding clothing from my perspective:

1] Are they comfortable?

2] Are they durable

I do realize I'm in the minority. I wear clothes for the most part because it's the law. In ndspinelliland life would be like a constant Halloween party, w/ people dressing however they wanted including au natural.

PatCA said...

The Gap actually has wonderful sales people who brings various jeans to you in the dressing room and who fit you according to your size and what you want. Just like the old days!

Or maybe the government could just take over jeans production and reduce our choice anxiety.

Paddy O said...

"Now it was a complex decision in which I was forced to invest time, energy, and no small amount of self-doubt, anxiety, and dread."

He's buying jeans! How neurotic does one have to be to put this much worry into the process.

Try some on. Buy the ones that fit best. No self-doubt, anxiety, or dread needed.

What kind of man freaks out because of ALL THE CHOICES to buy jeans? He's inflicting his neuroses about being easily overwhelmed by inconsequential choices into being some kind of national panic.

It's jeans. Choose some. It's really no big deal.

They're jeans for men. Find a brand and fit you like, order them from amazon. They arrive in the mail. You wear them.

It's entirely easy. If it's not easy. Don't buy them.

It's like saying, "Oh No! So many things on television! We need 1 channel and I need to be told what to watch!"

Of course, this whole "Choices make me panic!" meme is probably tailored to fit nicely into Obama's new America. Options are scary, let the man in charge think for us!

t-man said...

Schwartz's must crumple into a ball and whimper whenever a wine list is brought out in a decent restaraunt.

Paddy O said...

Skinny jeans for men should, of course, be taxed heavily.

t-man said...

What do you mean there is a store that does nothing but sell different types of cheese? Close it down! Velveeta is good enough for everyone.

Paddy O said...

He's probably a fan of high speed rail. It goes one direction and back, to established stops.

All those roads and maps and highways and stoplights and intersections ("RIGHT?! or LEFT!? or FORWARD?! I DON'T KNOW!!") probably cause him to freak out.

Also, no doubt, he's a fan of arranged marriages.

DADvocate said...

But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.

Sorry. Don't buy it. I don't have much problem deciding on jeans or any other product available in a variety of styles, types, etc. Neither do my kids.

I've been checking out printers. Talk about a broad range of choices. Brands everywhere and each with a multitude of models. But, I've narrowed it down pretty quick to a couple of models. Now, it just depends on price, availability and ink cartridge price.

Schwartz must have a mental problem.

t-man said...

Seriously, though. IMHO, the "paradox of choice" is only a problem for the insecure. The tip-off is Schwartz's statement "I was forced to invest time, energy, and no small amount of self-doubt, anxiety, and dread.

Class factotum said...

Buy the ones that fit best

And then buy three more pairs identical pairs because in four years, when you go to replace the now worn jeans, they won't be making the kind you like any more.

This advice also applies to white t-shirts, underwear, and running shoes, although underwear should be replaced more frequently than twice a decade.

Paddy O said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paddy O said...

In Schwartz's ideal world...

Chip S. said...

no small amount of self-doubt, anxiety, and dread

It sucks when you're finally forced to admit to yourself that your old size no longer fits.

Paddy O said...

Wait, he shouldn't buy them from amazon, because they have all those choices of books to read. Books on every conceivable topic! Where should I begin?! How do I choose?! Books everywhere.

I'm going to go in a corner and sob.

TMink said...

Devo said it well.

In ancient Rome
There was a poem
About a dog
Who found two bones
He picked at one
He licked the other
He went in circles
He dropped dead

Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom from choice
Is what you want

Trey

MaggotAtBroad&Wall said...

And from the movie, "You've Got Mail", the Tom Hanks character says that because ordinary people have to make so many decisions just to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks, it instills a sense of fulfillment and self confidence in their ordinary existence:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3U-edWobpw

Poor Barry must have mental breakdowns at Starbucks.

traditionalguy said...

The Levis came in blue and white, and that was about it.

I empathize with this guy.

My wife gave me instructions to pick up some Pepperage Farm goldfish at the store.

Well an hour or so later I had to phone home the second time for better instructions.

There were a floor to ceiling 10' section of 50 varieties of them in flavors, sizes, regular or fat free, reduced salt, and cheese types.

Who would have known the learning curve for goldfish snacks.

Pogo said...

There appears to be a business opportunity here, to mollify the Barry Schwartzes of the world.

Call it Soviet Mart.

One style for many consumer products.

All the latest 1960s Sears clothing.

Staffed by heavy, mustached, glowering matrons just over from the Ukraine.

All items union-made.

One long line for check-out and customer 'service'.

Many of the employees are in the breakroom. Often for 2/3rds of their shift.

Some items are out. No, we have no idea when they will be in again.

No refunds.

So get in line and shut up, Comrade Schwartz. Or are you some kind of kulak?

Patrick said...

God, that's pathetic.

That Randy Normal thing is a little weird too.

prairie wind said...

I like the choices in jeans because I have a better shot at finding a pair that fit. But shampoo? Gosh. They have shampoo for dry hair, normal hair, fine hair, curly hair, color-treated hair, hair that you want to curl, hair that you want to straighten, hair that you want to look bigger, hair that you want to be sleeker, hair that you want to be shinier, hair that you want to be curly until after work when it should go straight... Yikes. It's just shampoo, for crying out loud. I have a sneaking suspicion that the shampoo is the same in all the bottles. At least with the jeans, I can see and feel the differences.

And I'll just add that M&Ms (plain, peanut, coconut, almond, dark chocolate, etc.) made a fine business decision when it added pretzel M&Ms to its lineup.

BJM said...

They were so cool at the time,

No, not really, maybe in Madison, but not in Oakland.

Oligonicella said...

He's not really arguing against expanse of choice, he's arguing for conformity.

As for Obama, I always saw Randy and I don't find Randy amusing.

Pogo said...

For some things that are too few choices.

Like, where is the button to push that ejects Barry Schwartz into space?

Or why can't I punch him for being such a pussy about buying a pair of goddamned jeans?

Meade said...

"As to jeans, I never buy anything that can't go in the wash with everything else in one load every two weeks.

Which I'm about to do, by the way."

Tweeted on Twitter, or it never happened.

Coketown said...

I've had the same 3 pairs of jeans on rotation for almost three years because I can't find jeans in the same style. The entire industry has moved to that skin-tight bullshit that our forefathers most feared. In fact, Levi's--the clothing standard of hypermasculine cowboys and lumberjacks--has a style out called "Ex-girlfiend." The idea being that your ex-girlfriend left her jeans in your hamper (did she walk home without pants? Or bring a spare pair?), so now you're going to wear them...instead of doing the right thing and returning them and saying, "I found your jeans while I was sorting laundry and listening to Dashboard Confessional. And I miss you baby," and scoring an afternoon of decent, if awkward, Sex for Old Time's Sake. Then she realizes her jeans are stretched, and that night, on facebook, you read on her wall: "I think my ex-boyfriend has been wearing the jeans I left at his house like four months ago," followed my 6 lol's and 21 likes.

Chip S. said...

I can't believe that you guys have managed to get me to offer a mild defense of Schwartz, but that's part of the fun of hanging around this blog. So here goes...

This "too many jeans" nonsense isn't the basis for his argument, but just what's supposed to be a persuasive example from everyday life. He does cite some research that claims to find that people can be overwhelmed when having to choose from among "too many" options at one time. There may even be a plausible physiological basis for this.

Schwartz's mistake is his presumption that every time we make a purchase we reconsider all the options we rejected previously.

Even though it may well be tedious to evaluate all the different styles of Goldfish, that's only a one-time inconvenience. Once we know which option we like best, we can simply be creatures of habit.

wv tedia!

Pogo said...

Soviet Mart

No sales! Ever!

Daily High Prices!

Do not buy jeans made on a Monday!

Bribes are forbidden.
(Call Manager for details)

traditionalguy said...

The Levis were once only a necessary tool, along with motorcycle boots, for all migrant laborers working in in harvests, lumberjacks and truck drivers.

Once the folk song guys playing coffee houses in Manhattan wanted to play dress-up as Woody Guthrie types, suddenly Levis became fashion statements for the middle class rebel Baby Boomers.

Even today they require a pretended worn out look as if a laboring man has worn them several years.

BJM said...

@Class factotum

And then buy three more pairs identical pairs because in four years, when you go to replace the now worn jeans, they won't be making the kind you like any more.

Ain't that the truth?! I buy jeans, undies & tees by the stack.

I'd have to add cosmetics, especially lip & nail colors to the list. The cosmetic companies suddenly change or discontinue products and/or colors. Unfortunately cosmetics don't have a long shelf life, so stocking up isn't an option and we have to sort through the new offerings to find an approximation. It's vexing.

Coketown said...

Remember when Dorothy's ex-sister-in-law came to visit from Czechoslovakia right after the revolution and was complaining about all the books? "So many books, so many contradicting opinions. What will happen now? The people of my country will read all these books and be confused. No, the way it was worked. When there is one road no-one gets lost." I'm reminded of this because the whole tone of the jeans-guy's piece stinks of late-80's/early-90's situational humor. "And what's the deal with all these jeans?" etc.

Palladian said...

I hate the trend, which really accelerated in the 1990s, of beautiful, simple utilitarian objects being supplanted by "designed" objects. Everything started to get unnecessary curves, frills, patterns. Objects that should be simple, honest and invisible in their straightforwardness suddenly start shouting for unwarranted attention. I like choice... unfortunately it's often the choice between hideous and more hideous.

I love finding a product that has obviously not been redesigned for decades still being made.

E.M. Davis said...

Skinny jeans for men should, of course, be taxed heavily.

You just say this because you can't wear them.

E.M. Davis said...

Palladian-

The design of the original plunger is beautiful compared to those hideous "figurine" versions.

I wear 'regular' jeans, bootcuts, and yes, sometimes the skinnier versions because they look better on me than anything big and baggy like relaxed fit.

Palladian said...

♥ Coketown.

Hagar said...

So far, the baristas all seem to understand when I say I want coffee coffee in that size (pointing).

E.M. Davis said...

My wife gave me instructions to pick up some Pepperage Farm goldfish at the store.

Well an hour or so later I had to phone home the second time for better instructions.


Who wears the jeans in your household?

E.M. Davis said...

... And I always go low-rise so I don't look like Obama.

PatHMV said...

It's still a free country. If Barry Schwartz thinks people actually WANT fewer choices, then he can start the "No Options!" store, and stock one style of everything. And you can get it all in any color you want... as long as it's black. Taking this kind of research and using it as the basis for government policy decisions is VERY dangerous.

There's some interesting research that Schwartz and others have done in this realm, but I'm not sure he's carefully analyzed yet the difference between stated preferences and actual preferences. People might SAY they don't like the choices, and they may even experience the negative feelings he described, but given the choice between choices and no choices, I think it's clear that most people opt for more choices.

People feel overwhelmed by choices when they don't know, and don't care much, about the relative merits of the available options. The average middle-aged guy just wants a damn pair of jeans. But the 20-something post-college young professional woman knows exactly what the difference is between all of those styles, where each can be worn appropriately, which style is suitable for which body type, which colors are best for which skin tones, etc. On the other hand, the young woman (and excuse me for using a very stereotypical example) only wants a "cute car," while the middle-aged guy may know precisely what engine he wants, what options, which brand is most reliable, etc.

The wine connoisseur who likes impressing his dinner guests LOVES how many choices he has available to him. The average couple who's throwing together a last-minute dinner party, on the other hand, may be paralyzed by the number of options of wine available.

One of the things we've lost, and not yet replaced entirely by computer, is the expert sales help which used to help the average person navigate these choices.

Palladian said...

The other problem with a vast array of choices is that it usually means that significantly less consideration went into the design and production of the product. Nowhere is this more evident than the current world of perfumery, where there are now hundreds of new fragrances (or more likely, "variations" on existing fragrances) introduced each year, most of them meretricious trash thrown together in a cynical attempt to cash in on whatever derivative swill is currently selling well. The insidious trend of "flankers", which are the "variations" on existing, successful scents, is destroying creativity in the industry. Take Guerlain, for example, which has turned into a house of vulgarity since their purchase by LVMH, busily destroying their 150 year reputation.

Pogo said...

One Size Fits All doesn't.

Palladian said...

Instead of choosing one of 30 great products, now you can choose from 795 mediocre ones, all made in China!

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Palladian said...

... unfortunately it's often the choice between hideous and more hideous.

I think we've been hanging out at the same bars.

Paddy O said...

"You just say this because you can't wear them."

I can't wear them, that's true, but even at my skinniest I could never wear them, and I was definitely thin. My legs are muscular, not pipe cleaners.

But, I say this not because I can't wear them but because I must look at them.

We're all victims of second-hand skinny jeans watching.

Skinny jeans should be outlawed from public places.

Chip S. said...

Skinny jeans should be outlawed from public places.

Or you could stop looking closely at other men's pants.

edutcher said...

Software is like this: designers know maybe 1% will use anything more than the basic options, and many of the advanced ones never get used.

It just pays to be ready.

Ann Althouse said...

He was a winner, about to coast downhill

Not just downhill...

off a cliff.

Paddy O said...

"Or you could stop looking closely at other men's pants."

Don't oppress me with your inference of personal choice.

traditionalguy said...

E M Davis...The wife is very charming and classy and seldom asks for anything except red roses.

But I am the cook more than she is, so shopping is my job too, while she does her Professor's job that sometime snows he under with Projects to grade.

As the Bachmann's say, we mutually submit to one another on most things: She plans them and I do them.

And she likes her Goldfish done according to the plan.

MadisonMan said...

I don't think I could write a book because I was peeved at something that happened to me at the Gap.

(Seriously -- this guy shops at the Gap? He was born in 1946! How about shopping somewhere age-appropriate!)

rhhardin said...

Which I'm about to do, by the way."

Tweeted on Twitter, or it never happened.


It's all in the dryer now.

Palladian said...

I think people wearing skinny jeans should be beaten in the streets.

Michael K said...

Fortunately, Costco doesn't pose that problem. One style as far as I can tell. Which isn't far. 60 styles are for women.

Decision theory does show that multiple choices of nearly identical items tends to lead to choosing none. This was confirmed in a New England Journal of Medicine study a few years ago with patients who have osteoarthritis of the knees. The usual treatment is an anti-inflammatory called an NSAID (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). Aspirin is an example. When patients were offered three choices of drug, they were less likely to fill the prescription than if only one or two was offered.

Of course, the people who like 60 styles of jeans just like to shop.

slarrow said...

I'm surprised nobody has pointed to this video yet (warning: extreme language from Denis Leary):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQxgv4QtKM8

Another note: people here are making a mistake thinking that the options are all or nothing. There's a third option between no choice and a plethora of indistinguishable choices: fewer but more relevant choices.

The trouble with the multitude of choices is that it removes the default option. Try buying paint sometime and asking for "white" paint. It isn't that you have the default option plus lots more; it's that your extra options got rid of the simple one. Bit of a headache, really.

Paddy O said...

"I think people wearing skinny jeans should be beaten in the streets."

Then left there as a warning to others.

Paddy O said...

Next week, Obama is going to, in joint session of Congress, call for a national jean that we could all wear in an expression of bipartisanship, it will honor diversity through a single chooser system.

rocketeer67 said...

Nowhere is this more evident than the current world of perfumery

Unless Aqua Velva and bay rum have recently been classified by science as "perfumes," I'm gonna have to bow out of this conversation.

Shawn L. said...

Years ago I read an opinion piece by Schwartz that was essentially promoting this book.

I took it apart piece by piece on my blog

I wonder if he's finally decided on a digital camera after seven years?

ricpic said...

When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable.

Only a very spoiled individual could believe that.

Alex said...

There's just too much damn consumin' goin on!

Jose_K said...

Send him to Venezuela. People get in line for 5 hours to buy cooking oli. Most of them will smuggle it to Colombia where is sold 5 times the price here.We only like that brand . But most places only have another one, made by the goverment , nobody wants it.We have no choices , everybody is very happy.
It is the same with powder milk , coffe, meat, poultry, margarine.
We have price control, scarcity and no choice. Sure people is enough stupid to vote for Chavez because as soon as the middle class and the rich are scrw... they dont care if they are too.So they are happy. So people with no choice must be happy.
Said that no choice is happines?.My cousin is alegig to butter so he never ate cake while young. I guees it the USA is different , im sure there is a cake without butter in your marketplace. here there were not

Jose_K said...

Also, once, if you traveled to Europe, and you were wearing jeans
In Cuba a pair of jean is enough for a night of sex

bagoh20 said...

"You watch it because it's so infectious. And comforting. And infectiously comforting, like friendly jeans."

Yes, it is, and I'm far too embarrassed to even estimate how many times I've watched it.

But I kid the President. He looks better in his mom jeans that I do in my 501s, which are the only jeans, and nearly the only pants I ever wear. The exceptions being camo pants (which are the coolest) or shorts when Althouse brings up her objections to them, which then forces me to expose my disgusting white legs for the cause of freedom.

I also stick pretty much to vanilla ice cream - it's just the best.

I like to try new things, but when it's important, stick with what you know - also known as conservatism.

If Liberals love change, why don't they...ever?

What, no "bagoh20" tag? That's a poor choice, and you only had 2 options: yes or no.

That's a problem for you isn't it, Althouse - only having two to pick from. You are much better with more choices. We all are.

bagoh20 said...

I tried skinny jeans once. It didn't work.

Pogo said...

Trim Jeans Theater presents Murder In The Cathedral

"Absolve all those you have excommunicated!"

"Resign those powers you have arrogated!"

"Renew the obedience you have violated!"

"Lose inches off your hips, thighs, buttocks and abdomen!"

LilEvie said...

Just ask for "mom jeans". That's what they're called now. I was horrified when my friend told me that's what I was wearing. But they look the best. And no muffin top. Damn those hip-huggers.

Joe said...

A reasonable amount of choice is good, and I would NEVER suggest government should reduce available choices. But at some point, too many choices becomes a poor marketing strategy.

On a prosaic level, I recall a lunch place I used to patronize at which ordering a turkey sandwich required making at least a dozen choices. I often felt like blurting, "Just give me a damned sandwich." That lunch place is long gone. Perhaps excessive choices are part of the reason.

yashu said...

Jose K, you live (or have family who live) in Venezuela, under Chavez?

You have my sincere & heartfelt condolences. What a nightmare. I dearly wish & hope for you that Venezuelans rid themselves of him sooner rather than later. If only they could.

Paddy O said...

"I recall a lunch place I used to patronize at which ordering a turkey sandwich required making at least a dozen choices."

The limited menu, and good food, is a hallmark of In N Out here in California.

Initiates know of the secret menu, so it has the appeal of a limited choice and a gnostic religion.

E.M. Davis said...

The limited menu, and good food, is a hallmark of In N Out here in California.

Initiates know of the secret menu, so it has the appeal of a limited choice and a gnostic religion.



Animal style.

bagoh20 said...

"They were so cool at the time,..."

I did not see it that way, but I'm not in the Ellen demographic.

I did like Clinton playing the Sax on The Arsenio Hall Show. That WAS kinda cool. And Monica played the Pres., that was awesome...for them both, and she got a standing ovation.

Erik said...

Choosing jeans can still take five minutes if you *choose* to only take five minutes. There's no obligation to spend more time if you don't like. That's where the problem is: not with choice, but the inability of some people to prioritize their time. I think this is often a problem for elites, and they assume that most Americans have the same problems, and wouldn't it be great if we could somehow alleviate this problem of excessive choices?

This is what the market gives us, because this is what we want. When we want something different, it will accommodate us.

The problem with suggesting "fewer, more relevant" choices is who gets to choose what is relevant? Again, we assume that our own choices would be in the "relevant" category, but there's no guarantee of that.

The solution to the choice-addled consumer is: don't overthink it. The truth is, I doubt there are many people out there who worry about this sort of shit.

Class factotum said...

Oh for pete's sake. It's been three months since I gave up caffeine and I still am going through withdrawal. I wrote

And then buy three more pairs identical pairs because in four years,

when I obviously meant

And then buy three more identical pairs .

BJM, you are correct. This principle applies to other goods, such as Hobnob cookies, which can be frozen successfully.

Coketown said...

Ellen always looks really good. I wish she would take me shopping. "Excuse me, miss. Where's your men/lesbian section?" If I wore what she wore, I'd turn heads. In a good way. Not a oops-forgot-to-wear-jeans-with-my-crotchless-chaps way. That's a faux pas you only make once.

ricpic said...

If it weren't for a plethora of choices in addition to Triscuit Original there wouldn't be Triscuit Hint of Salt, which is the only cracker I've ever found that doesn't taste like a salt mine.

Hey, to me it's important.

MikeR said...

Friend of mine moved here from the former Soviet Union. He said the harder new thing for him was shopping in a grocery store. How in the world was he supposed to know which bar of soap he wanted?

Chuck66 said...

You could shop at Mills Fleet Farm and get yourself a fine but more basic choice in jeans.

They may even have some with elastic waist bands.

Scott M said...

How in the world was he supposed to know which bar of soap he wanted?

It certainly takes a little while, but eventually you can see what each one tastes like if you say "shit" in front of your mother enough.

Chuck66 said...

ricpic, that's funny as I thought the same thing. High blood pressure is hereditary for me, so I try to watch the salt. Which isn't that hard as I don't like salty foods.

The hint-of-salt (aka low sodium for you folks back in the 90s) is perfect.

David said...

I love the Obama dance scene. It certainly proves that he is half white.

Conserve Liberty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
slarrow said...

Still wondering what's up with some of these responses. Never saw the guy in the excerpt or Amazon summary ever say that the way to deal with this complexity was to reduce choice, let alone through gov't intervention, so I don't get the high horse attitude I've seen in a couple places here.

Second thing: do people think this issue isn't real? Sure, purchasing jeans is a trivial example, but apparently the guy goes into lots of more serious examples. I still remember my high school years when the college ads came pouring in (garbage bags, full, literally.) It was tough to work through--"Let's Make a Deal" with two hundred doors. (And yes, I mean two hundred--grades and test scores I had, I could have gone free to lots of different places.)

Granted, it's a good problem to have, but it's still a problem. One of the biggest things I learned in my 20s was that coping with success required certain skill just as much as coping with failure did. My folks taught me well how to deal with adversity, but turns out, sometimes you've got to learn to deal with prosperity too because it's just as big a trap. Seems like this work might be useful in that vein.

Carol_Herman said...

If people felt overwhelmed by choices in the marketplace, marriages would last longer.

But when the choices came down to "marriage or the meat market" ... meet market even showed up on the Internet!

Choices don't overwhelm people. Being short of money, however, crimps things down to what you can afford.

Back in the 1960's, Faded Glory came out with pairs of jeans that sold for $40 a pair! My mother decided it was time to retire. She said her jeans cost $14.40 a dozen. There was no way she'd invest in buying them wholesale at $20 per pair.

Carol_Herman said...

The older I get, the more I want the waistband's closure to close around my waist.

And, I don't "retire" jeans. I just discover that even with breathing in, I can't close the pair I thought I'd wear that day.

Sigivald said...

His problem isn't that there's "too much choice in jeans".

His problem is that he went to Gap and asked someone for "jeans".

Is it just that he hasn't purchased any in a few decades?

Or is this an entirely fabricated rant against "consumer culture" and choice?

If he wanted the jeans of yore, he should go to a place that sells Levis 501s. They're still the most popular single brand and style, last I checked.

(NB. When I see someone complain about "consumerism" or "consumer culture", I know I'm dealing with an idiot.

Not someone who is stupid, mind, but an idiot - one can be a very, very intelligent idiot.)

Der Hahn said...

@Erik .. good points. I'd say the root cause of the choice paradox is locating the definition of a 'good choice' outside your own experience and needs. (Do these jeans make me look fat?) What else would Schwartz be dreading? He's already admitted that he had to settle for an imperfect pair of jeans when the choices were minimal. Buyer's remorse over the selection might cause some anxiety but that can be corrected on the next purchase, and he still has a pair of jeans no worse than before. He's unconsiously revealing that what he's really anxious about is someone else judging that he made a bad choice. This is the standard that he applies when he looks at the choices other people make. He is not concerned with determining if their choices are optimized for their situation but whether they appear to be the correct choice according to an external standard - his.

Sigivald said...

Bill is completely right about the value of simplicity within a brand.

But that's different than choice variety in the market as a whole.

(I like Apple products and have Macs as well as PCs - but I'd hate a world where nobody could buy anything but an Apple, if only because that would leave so many people needlessly without a computer.

The market serves, in addition to consumers of premium computers, the needs of people who just want "a computer" at the Lowest Possible Price.

Apple doesn't want their money, because there's no significant profit in that segment and you have to cut too many corners, which can hurt your brand.

Everyone wins with competition and segmented brands.

Kirk Parker said...

Palladian,

Decades is fine, respectable even--but how about something designed over a century ago? (Yes, the model number is the year it was designed or first offered for sale--not sure which.)

Kirk Parker said...

c. factotum,

"although underwear should be replaced more frequently than twice a decade."

Is that with, or without, intermediate washings?

Kirk Parker said...

Triangle,

I would have said, angling for Neil Postman's job... same difference, I guess. :-(

chickenlittle said...

@Kirk Parker: I'm really, really surprised that the Holder DoJ hasn't gone after gun owners who may have gun stocks made from exotic wood types in their collections.

Palladian said...

"Decades is fine, respectable even--but how about something designed over a century ago?"

Even better!

traditionalguy said...

Kirk...I had a 67 Canadian Centennial Winchester 94 with the octagonal target shooting barrel.

It worked like a charm. My son has it now.

The disarmed Canadians don't know what they are missing.

dbp said...

Paddy O said...

"Skinny jeans for men should, of course, be taxed heavily."

In most cases they are heavily taxed, structurally at least.

michaele said...

Someone might have already mentioned this but, damn, I have come to dread the toothpaste aisle...there are now so many choices.

chickenlittle said...

The hexagonal #2 pencil seems like a timeless product design.

So is the classic martini glass.

Paddy O said...

"In most cases they are heavily taxed, structurally at least."

Ha!

andinista said...

There are four kinds of men in this world: traditional Levi's, Lee, Wrangler; and soft-handed men who wear fancy pants and are scared of hard physical work. A fresh pair of $60 Levi's 501, before it becomes faded and worn at the knees and hips, you can take your date to the Opera, and be looking mighty fine. Especially with that $200 pair of fancy boots.

Not so for women, since they come in all shapes and sizes. The fashion industry has to turn out a lot of variations so that every dame has one that allows her to cut a figure, and that keeps the prices up. But still, past $200, it's wretched excess, and screams to any one looking: "Danger! Danger, Will Robinson! High-maintenance diva! Run away!"

Ralph L said...

We couldn't wear jeans to my high school, so I lived in narrow corduroys then and for years after. Seen one pair in my size (32x34) in the last 20 years. My one and only blue jeans since childhood was my last pair of 30 waist pants. One trip through the college laundry service (it had been an all-male school), and they were ball-busters.

Paul Zrimsek said...

The way to look at this "problem" is: the differences between the products you're looking at is either important or it isn't. If it is, be glad you've been given the choice and don't begrudge the effort of making it. If it isn't then, what the hell, pick whatever looks reasonable and don't worry about it.

Ralph L said...

That new-fangled plunger reminds me of my life-long irrational fear of sticking my foot in a toilet.

Seven Machos said...

Why is it that sophisticated liberals are always so upset about all the choices we have? I thought you guys were so smart and so much better at processing information.

I love choices. Choices are good. It's good to have choices.

Deb said...

And I'll just add that M&Ms (plain, peanut, coconut, almond, dark chocolate, etc.) made a fine business decision when it added pretzel M&Ms to its lineup.

...on my way to the store right now..

Deb said...

As for jeans, I prefer Wranglers

Lincolntf said...

Hey, tonight all you UW fans can forget about the idiots who've dominated your State for so long and concentrate your attention on the football team. I'm rooting for Russell Wilson and I've always liked UW, as far as Big Ten schools go. Maybe the athletes can help repair your image. Kickoff in 2 beers and counting...

Peano said...

"They were so cool at the time, but now?

Dueling douche bags, then no less than now. Only a blonde could have missed it.

ndspinelli said...

Lincolntf, This is Las Vegas weather here. You have 10 minutes, I would take UNLV and the 35 points, I think you'll coast to an easy win on that bet.

Cheryl said...

Earworm. Thanks.

Lincolntf said...

If I were a betting man (which I occasionally am, I have no qualms about betting small amounts with the local "bookie') I might agree. I hadn't even checked the line on this one.

jamboree said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

Sorry about forgetting the tag, bago. Fixed.

E.M. Davis said...

If I were a betting man (which I occasionally am, I have no qualms about betting small amounts with the local "bookie') I might agree. I hadn't even checked the line on this one.

Wow. 51-3. Glad I don't listen to you.

Nichevo said...

1) Not unreasonable to wish to know what was "the original" and to be able to easily find it.

2) Scientific research from my EF class: Fishing lures do not work, statistically, because any one lure is so very like a fish, fly, etc. They work because for every type of lure, bait, food, litter, etc., in the water, there is more data for fish to process. IOW the more chum in the water the more likely that they'll bite at SOMETHING.

No fools, these marketers. At least till their unwieldy logistics eat them alive.

If anybody cares I'll try to source that.

Kenneth said...

I just want the world back. You know, the world that was the way I liked it until it changed.

Astro said...

That's the way I feel about toothpaste. C'mon! I just want my toothpaste. Plain old Crest. I don't want to waste 3 minutes of life searching through Green Gel, Blue Gel, Red Gel, Breath Freshening, Whitening, Baking Soda, Gum Saving, Sensitive Teeth, Stripes, or 31 different flavors just to find my toothpaste.