USA Today has a piece by “brain scientist” Jeff Stibel, writing about how massive amounts of choices can actually be intimidating and inhibiting.

“The brain actually loathes choice, and science tells us that those who limit their choices may be on to something,” Stibel writes. “When was the last time you had to decide on one thing from a slew of choices? Maybe it was where to go on vacation, maybe what stocks to buy, perhaps what to do on a free Saturday afternoon. How did you feel when you started to consider your decision? A world of choice can make us feel elated … but only temporarily. As you collect more information and start to weigh your options, you grow overwhelmed.”

Stibel cites a study about jam:

“Consider the relatively insignificant decision of what type of jam to buy. Researchers Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper used a simple experiment to show the effect of too much choice. One day they offered shoppers at an upscale market 24 types of specialty jams, complete with free samples. About 3 percent of people who tried a jam sample also purchased a full-size jar. Then, they cut back on choices and set up a table offering only six jams. About the same number of people tasted the jam, but of this group, 30 percent purchased a jar. Sales increased tenfold by offering less choice.”

And this is how he concludes:

“Making good, rational choices is emotionally taxing. We are happiest when we’re sure that the alternatives are worse, when we’re sure we aren’t missing out on something better. But it’s hard to be sure about the right choice when there are too many options. Things just get, well, jammy.

“Business owners should resist the temptation to show off everything imaginable. Amazon already is the ‘everything store’ so differentiating as the ‘only what you need store’ seems like a pretty good plan.”

KC's View: This isn’t an entirely new construct. “The Paradox of Choice” made similar arguments, if I recall correctly, and it was published more than a decade ago.

But, Stibel’s argument is worth revisiting, especially within the Amazon context. Indeed, if Amazon is going to be the “everything store,” with so much choice that it is virtually impossible to compete with it on this particular field, doesn’t it make sense for its competitors to find another way? To curate selection based on knowledge of shopping habits? To be the buying agent for the store’s shoppers instead of the distribution agent for suppliers?