Price Points and the Paradox of Choice

On the day of the 4-inch iPhone announcement, I was deeply tempted to rewrite and rerun some old stuff about silly tech claims (“3.5-inch screen is the perfect size!”) based on armchair sciences. The point is not just that these claims are wrong (though they certainly are) but that they are the results of terrible, yet typical, post hoc reasoning patterns. The purported reasons are just decorations for a predetermined conclusion.

Instead of a rerun, I thought I would show a new example of this kind of bad reasoning. Jim Dalrymple Shawn King writes (on the basis of lists made by Stephen Hackett):

[…] take a guess at how many price points Amazon has for the Kindle and then guess how many Apple has for the iPad. It’s hard not to imagine that Amazon is creating their own “Paralysis of Choice”.

Sounds plausible… until you actually look at the research on the paradox of choice.

A meta-analysis of the last 10 years of research concludes that there is zero overall effect size on the link between the number of choices and adverse effects on decision-making. (But see some criticisms here.) There is an overall effect size of zero because there are quite specific conditions that need to be met for the paradox of choice to arise: lack of clear categories, the presence of difficult trade-offs, and an induced time pressure (p. 419).

None of these conditions are met with the Kindles. There are clear categories: if you just want a reader, you can get the classic Kindle or the Paperwhite, and if you want something more, get one of the Fires. There is no presence of a difficult trade-off: again, your choice is fairly clear depending on your needs. Finally, there is no induced time pressure: the Kindles will be available for a long while and you can order whenever you want. So, if you look at the scientific literature more carefully, the paradox of choice is unlikely to arise for Kindles, despite the oh-so-many price points.

Oh, by the way, guess how many price points there are for all Kindles? 19. Guess how many there are for all iOS devices? 17. Not a very dramatic difference. Even just counting the iPads, there are still 8 price points. The difference between the price points of Kindles and iPads is nowhere near the magnitude of the contrasts used in the various experiments. For example, in the most cited demonstration of the paradox of choice, the difference is between a choice from 6 kinds of jam and a choice from 24 kinds of jam.

The point, again, is not just that Dalrymple King is wrong (though he certainly is). The point is to highlight the kind of irresponsible and lazy reasoning pattern that shows up again and again in the Appleverse. At least we’ll always have the “yep”.

Feel free to talk to me on Twitter: @RagingTBolt.


One thought on “Price Points and the Paradox of Choice

  1. Pingback: Fire Joe Morgan and Me | Raging Thunderbolt

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