The challenge of choice

The thing about competitive markets is that they offer the consumer choice – but is this enough and is it always what consumers want? The first question was addressed at a seminar at the London Business School which I chaired this week (more information here). The second question reminds me of a story …
My wife is half Czech and our first visit to what was then Czechoslovia was before the revolution when the communist system was still in force. We were in the town where her family live and noticed a long queue stretching out of the local supermarket.
“What is that queue all about?” we asked.
“Well, there’s a national shortage of toilet paper. There’s been no delivery for weeks – but a delivery is expected sometime this morning” we were told.
“Really? A national shortage of toilet paper? How that can be?”
“Well, don’t you ever have shortages of toilet paper in Britain?”
No, never. There’s always plenty available and lots of choice.”
“What do you mean: choice?”
“Well, we have lots of different types of toilet paper.”
“Really? What do you mean: different types?”
“Well, we have different quality, different textures, different lengths, different colours.”
“That’s amazing. Why would you need different types of toilet paper? We’d be happy with one type that was always available.”
Now, there’s a thought ….

One Comment

  • Janet

    Sometimes I think we have too much choice- often in a supermarket the shelves are so full of dozens of different variations on one product that a)you can’t stand back far enough to see what you want, and b) filling up the shelves with lots of varieties of one item reduces the number of different items available because of inevitable space constraints thus reducing the REAL choice of consumers.