Thursday, July 12, 2007

Too Many Choices

Usually I make my own hummous and make a rather nice chilli hummous by adding few drops of Tabasco to the mix. Smoked garlic hummous is nice too (my sister sends me parcels of smoked garlic from the Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight). Sometimes I run out of ingredients (shop near work stopped stocking Tahini paste so I can only get it when I go into town on a Saturday). To tide me over this week, I tried to buy hummous from Tesco. I could get any flavour except plain! They had hummous with roasted vegetables, red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto (way too oily), olives, caramelised onions (yummers except for flatulence), butternut squash, rocket, lemon & coriander, oriental flavouring plus a plethora of salsas and sour-cream-based dips, but not a single pot of plain hummous. Not even organic plain hummous.

These days there is way too much choice. Faced with so many choices, many consumers are overwhelmed and don't buy anything. This was demonstrated as a "jam tasting". When faced with only a few choices, consumers often bought a pot of jam after tasting the options. When faced with a multitude of choices, consumers didn't buy any pots of jam.

Billy has recently been reading The Long Tail which looks at choices and minority markets. All this choice is mixed blessing - on the one hand it serves minority tastes, but on the other hand it overwhelms consumers. When designing software interfaces and menus, the rule was 7 +/- 2 options on a menu or screen. Too much choice confused the user (but some menus now have around 30 options, sigh).

Too much choice is also a contributing factor in obesity - rather than content themselves with one flavour and try something else on another day, many consumers gulp down multiple flavours each time. Ice cream used to be a choice of vanilla, strawberry, chocolate or raspberry ripple (green mint choc chip or rum-and-raisin if you went to a posh place). At most, you got a double scoop. Nowadays you can get tall, wide cones (or tubs) that accommodate 5 scoops piled up. Thorntons do around 8 flavours and a triple scoop option. Baskins Robbins do about 30 and tubs like small buckets.

It's the same with Millies Cookies. Why treat yourself to 1 or 2 cookies when you can buy them in 5s or 10s and it works out cheaper per cookie? Fine if you have 5 people, but I keep seeing people scoffing 5 cookies because (a) they don't have to choose just 1 or 2 flavours and (b) it works out cheaper (except it doesn't - it's cheaper to buy just one!)

I ended up buying aubergines, peppers, baby potatoes and small onions and roasting them with olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and some chilli seeds. They are yummers served cold with salad and a hot salsa. I also found some half-price pesto hummous - and yes, that yellow discount sticker influenced my choice.