Saturday, July 17, 2010

Choosing Less Choice


 Customers “are paying us to make these choices." 
   - Steve Jobs

Sometimes Steve Jobs succinctly says shit that just make sense. With this quote, specifically, he's talking about the choice Apple made to not offer Adobe Flash on the iPad and iPhone. What's Adobe Flash, you ask? Who knows — it doesn't matter. The point he is making is more general. He's saying Apple's job is to make choices for customers. The task of the company is to edit, to select things for you instead of you selecting them for yourself. In other words, he's saying it's Apple's job to give you less choice.

How many times have you heard that logic? — If you want to be a successful company, learn how to give your customers fewer options?

My guess is approximately never. It's not popular business wisdom. Take the business we're in, retailing. There are successful companies like Wal-Mart,  Dell and Zappos, who are lauded for giving endless choices. One of the most successful in the last ten years is Amazon, the ultimate choice pornographer. Jeff Bezos even chose the name for its evocation of immense abundance. 

The endless choice strategy has its strong points. To be honest, I shop at Amazon a lot. But I think the strategy fails in many ways, too. Shops with lots of choices have critical product gaps. There are many companies — often ones making very interesting products — who don't want to sell to Amazon and Wal-Mart. 

Also, when a shop has "everything" you need help to decide what to buy. Most endless choice companies help by crowd-sourcing opinions, letting previous customers review products. But who do you trust more: hundreds of pseudo experts you don't know, one expert who's trained and whose tastes and values are clear?

In the end, besides shopping at Amazon for things I already know I want, I shop at many places to find something I didn't know I wanted. I look for shops that have finely edited collections. Shops that are designed and curated by someone with a strong set of tastes. It's there I find surprise.

The point of business isn't that one strategy is better than another. It's just that you can't have conflicting strategies. You can go broad and shallow and offer loads of choices and be successful.You can also choose less choice and succeed. Apple chose. So have we.

Here other retailers who have chosen less choice. They are some of my favorite shops, curated by a very strong vision. Online they might not be much, some are too small they can't afford great websites. Go visit if you can.

Erie Basin
Paul Smith
Moon River Chattel
826 Valencia

Post links to your favorite  shops if you'd like.