A few months ago, I sat in a Dutailier glider and discovered that I had lived half a century with no concept of how comfortable a chair can be. My wife had exactly the same reaction. So we’d like to buy a couple of those chairs.
Unfortunately, Dutailier no longer makes the model we sat in. Fortunately, they make similar models. Unfortunately, they make one hundred and thirty nine models, of which at least fifty-nine appear to be serious contenders for “model most similar to the one we sat in”.
Those customers who somehow manage to choose among these models are then offered a choice of 113 different upholstery fabrics, 22 different wood finishes, and 10 “model options” (including “glide only”, “glide plus multiposition lock”, “glide plus autolock” and “glide plus multiposition lock plus autolock”) for a staggering 3,455,540 possible chairs. (That’s an approximation, because some models come with more or fewer options.) Color me paralyzed.
When I reported last week on economist Mark Skousen’s frustration with excessive choice on the toothpaste aisle, a lot of commenters saw no problem. Why can’t Skousen just buy the toothpaste he likes and ignore the others? But in this case, I can’t just buy the chair I like because I have no way of knowing which one it is. I’m willing to bet that somewhere among those 139 models is a worthy successor to the chair I fell in love with. But short of ordering 139 chairs and returning 138 of them, I have no idea how to find it.
In other words, it wouldn’t be so bad if Dutailier’s only sin were to offer a ridiculous number of choices. The problem is that they’ve both offered a ridiculous number of choices and discontinued the perfectly good choice I’m looking for. What’s the point? When you already make the best chair in the history of the Universe, why would you go so far out of your way to keep it out of the hands of your customers?
I wonder if someone in the marketing department at Dutailier has a vision of the customer who is better off with 139 choices than with, say, 138. And while I’m at it, I also wonder why half their models are labeled “For the Nursery” and half “For the Living Room”, with no discernible pattern. The chair I sat in was in neither a nursery nor a living room.
If you share my frustration with this kind of thing — or even if you don’t — do click through to this hilarious blog post by our valued frequent commenter Doctor Memory. (For some reason, that link seems to take you to the bottom of the page. So first click, then scroll up.) Then come back and help me understand why retailers keep doing this. I want to believe there’s a good reason. But I’m stumped.