This post is inspired by Barry Schwartz and his theory that modern Western industrialized societies have too many choices, which ultimately leads to anxiety and unhappiness. Read about his theory here. He wrote a book, too.
The premise is pretty simple. We like choices… to a point. If too many choices are offered, consumers are stricken with paralysis. There is so much information to sift through, they simply choose not to decide. Even if they do make a decision, the expectations of choosing the best possible product will almost always lead to some degree of disappointment. After all, maybe they could have chosen a better one.
Back in the day, we didn’t have too many minimalist shoe choices. We could buy some type of sandal, a racing flat, or an aqua sock. None were especially well-suited as a method to protect the foot while maintaining the feel of barefoot running.
We rejoiced when Vibram released the original Five Fingers, then rejoiced more when they released the KSOs, Sprints, and Flows. This was a pretty good solution for the majority of barefoot runners in a majority of situations. Hell, I used a pair of KSOs to finish my first 100 miler.
Over the next few years, a handful of alternatives entered the market. Companies like Terra Plana started producing shoes to compete with Vibram. None of the options were great, but they served the purpose pretty well. Slowly more companies trickled their products into the market, but choices were still limited. It was easy to figure out which shoe worked best for you.
Fast forward to 2011. Some major players like Merrell and New Balance got into the game and started producing some excellent shoes. Many would agree that these new kids on the block provided more choices and more variety.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Over the next 12 months, pretty much every major and minor manufacturer will begin producing a shoe that could legitimately be called a “minimalist shoe” based on my definition. Right now we can still count our quality choice on two hands. By May of 2012, we may very well have 25-50 choices.
Good right? Not according to Schwartz’ theory. He predicts (and I agree) that too many choices will ultimately lead to less satisfaction. There will simply be too many choices available… too many options to consider. We will have crossed the tipping point of too many choices.
What does this mean? This is something that’s impossible to predict, but I’ll take a stab anyway:
- The job of shoe reviewer will die. As choices increase, so will the reviews. This will result in a lot of noise. Overwhelmed consumers will simply stop researching shoes through blog reviews. Some of the more prominent reviewers will keep churning out reviews due to a high Google ranking, but the smaller gigs will die.
- The companies that keep it simple will reign. There’s a tendency to flood the market with a million different shoes to meet the demands of a fickle market. The smart companies will limit their offerings to reduce the number of perceived choices consumers will make. How many different iPhones does Apple produce? They understand the beauty of simplicity, and they have the customer base to prove it. Like any good restauranteur knows, a simple menu perfectly executed attracts a lot bigger crowds than a lot of half-assed dishes.
- Barefoot running, as a percentage of total runners, will increase. This will be a direct result of consumer paralysis. People will buy into the principles of natural running, but will balk at purchasing minimalist shoes immediately. In that interim, they will be more likely to try true barefoot running.
- Current runners will be less likely to try minimalist shoes. This is a direct result of the consumer paralysis idea. Companies (or barefoot running educators for that matter) that can figure out how to simplify the perceived number of choices will be the most successful.
- Those that are in the market right now have the greatest likelihood for success. They are creating a legion of loyal customers that will not be swayed by new shoes hitting the market. The companies that produce kick-ass products and connect with their customer base on an intimate level will enjoy a sizable advantage.
What do you think? Am I completely off-base? Do you think there is such a thing as too many choices? If so, do you have any predictions you’d like to make?