Buying time, happiness and stuff

Summary: A post about how to make your shopping productive and your lifestyle a tad bit easy. Yeah, there’s a coupon code at the end of the post.

The sale is here. Big billion days, unbox, Great Indian festival.  Spend money buying what you don’t want to save money that you spend on more things you don’t want could be a good tagline – longish though.  I wanted to understand how shopping affects productivity and here’s what I found: the type of shopper you are could affect your productivity and the way you make decisions. A friend from IIM-A (sounds so fake, but really. His name is Venkata Ramakrishnan) told me learning to make good decisions was his biggest takeaway from 2 years of MBA. So, here’s a crash course on how decisions are made while shopping.

Let’s log onto flipkart!

Max and Srini (that’s me in case you haven’t figured out) are eagerly waiting for the big sale to begin. They both have a similar buying list. The sale begins . Max spends close to 3 hours shopping and Srini, 30 mins. What you can see in this scenario is that Max  spent an additional 2.5 hours. What you can’t see here is the way the two made decisions. What you perhaps din’t also see is that over the last week, Max  spent an additional 3 hours researching about the products -cost-benefit analysis and all. I think Venkata is his friend. So that’s 6 hours for Max. We might call Max financially prudent. He might have also made better decision. Srini on the other hand did no research. He bought what he felt would be ‘good enough’ or affordable. In the process he might have spent an additional 1000 Rs. or settled for an average product. It wouldn’t be too hard to see who is left happier. Max, of course, right? Good products, good deal, just a little extra time. It has to be Max!

Dr. Barry Schwartz, in his book, The Paradox of choice talks about people like Max and Srini. Not the same names exactly. Max is what he calls the Maximizer and Srini, the Satisficer (not-fun-at-all fact: the terms were coined by Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon). According to Dr Schwartz, maximizers want the very best while the satisficers settle for something less than the best or good enough. That’s as dumb as the difference can get. To illustrate further, here is what happens:

Max spends his 3 hours ensuring he makes the best purchase. He compares products-applies numerous filters- does more research- reads all reviews before buying the product. At the time of checkout, he spends another 30 mins going back to review his products. Srini logs in, reads one review and buys the product.

Although we might think Max made a better decision, there is little evidence to back this. What Dr. Schwartz found is that a Max is left wondering if he made the best decision even AFTER the purchase. Sometimes, he might even go back to reread all the reviews of the product to ensure he made the right choice (add another hour there). He is left pondering if he really made the right choice and if he could have explored more options. Srini on the other hand is toying with one of the products he just received. So, who do you think is happier now? Dr. Shwartz’s study says – satisficer, Srini (yayy me!). Max makes what he believes is a well informed decision, but wonders how well is well informed. Srini makes what could be average decision but feels good about it.

What does this do to their productivity? :

Max: 7 hours | decision fatigue | not very happy

Srini: 30 mins | happy

Max ends up with what I call unsatisfied satisfaction. Being a maximizer could be a huge productivity killer at times. It is therefore very important to understand what type you are. I, for one, am a maximizer (although I want to be a satisficer) and I see this might affect not just the way I shop, but also how long I might take to send out a mail. Surely, the type I am spills out in other areas of my life too. There is no right or wrong about the two. Infact, Dr Schwartz found one can maximize when it comes to certain decisions and satisfice on others. He also found we tend to maximize less as we become older. Knowing what type you are helps optimize productivity and influence your decision making. It is very important to identify the things that need you to be a maximizer (buying a home) and things that need you to be a satificer (buying a handkerchief!). Striking a balance between the two could not only save time, but also leave you feeling better.

You could find out what type you are here. But, what is important to understand is how much time you spend making decisions. If you approach all decisions with a single mindset (maximizer or satificer), that could be a mistake.

Happy shopping!
Here’s the coupon code: SATISFICER007
Written Sept 2015

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