I’ve been reading and enjoying The Long Tail, the best seller by Chris Anderson about high sales of products that are low sellers. That is, they are low sellers individually, but collectively large sellers. One point he makes (p. 172) is that substantial choice can help buyers substantially. That calls to mind a section from my paper, "E-com Econ: The Economics of Electronic Commerce:
"Wide inventory holdings can also help buyers make decisions when involved in a problem-solving purchase. A buyer, especially a consumer, may not know which product best fits his needs. Consider an example from our personal experience. The parent faced with coaching a youth soccer team for the first time wants a general book of advice. He passes a small bookstore, finds that it carries three books about coaching soccer, but isn’t sure than any of these are right for him. He stops by a large chain bookstore, such as Borders or Barnes and Noble, and finds 20 books. Some of these are clearly for younger players, some for advanced players, some with lots of charts, some with checklists. The buyer is confident that he has found the one best book for him, and buys it. That book might well have been one of the three offered at the small bookstore, but the wide selection helped convince the buyer that he was making the right choice. Although this example focuses on the “big box” retailers, it also applies the electronic commerce sites, which can offer a much larger number of selections. An Amazon.com search turned up 184 book titles and 6 video tapes on “coaching soccer.”
Anderson goes on to say that it’s vital to help consumers deal with the large range of choice through reviews, lists of "people who liked this also like that," etc.
I had been a touch hesitant to buy the book, thinking that I had all the insights from the article in Wired Magazine (read it here). The author adds enough additional insight to make the book purchase a very good value.