Weekly Editorial

How The Paradox Of Choice Is Affecting The Office Furniture Industry

Written By Rob Kirkbride, Write Office • November 7, 2022

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Remember the good ‘ol days? You know the ones: Aligned dealers had a few brands and a manageable number of products to sell. Office designs were fairly simple and straightforward and consisted of cubicles, task chairs and storage products with a few large lobby and conference room furniture pieces mixed in.

Fast forward to today. The average dealer has hundreds if not thousands of brands under their banner with more being added each day. Cubicles are gone, replaced by a mix of height adjustable and fixed desks. Conference rooms are being replaced with smaller casual meeting spaces. Entire floorplates that were once filled with desks are now designed with ancillary furniture, mobile whiteboards, sound absorbing panels that can be used to define space and lounge pieces that can be used for quick meetings or casual work sessions.

Having lots to choose from is good…until it isn’t.

“The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less” is a book written by American psychologist Barry Schwartz and first published in 2004 in which the author argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers.

Shoppers, in our case, are the designers, dealers and salespeople who are up to their eyeballs in products. With so much to choose from, it is impossible for them to actually find what they are looking for. Good products are being overlooked simply because decision makers cannot hope to find them. Decision makers might not know the product exists.

It is a huge problem for our industry. The paradox of choice suggests that an abundance of options actually requires more effort to choose and can leave us feeling unsatisfied with our choice. I’ve not conducted a scientific poll to see if this paradox of choice is affecting the office furniture industry, but based on conversations I’ve had with a lot of you, it seems to be an issue.

So if it’s a problem, let’s talk about potential solutions. As far as I can tell, there are two basic choices to solve for the paradox of choice: You can take the time to learn about new products (if you are on the product specification side) or do a better job marketing those new products (if you are on the manufacturing side); or you can reduce the number of manufacturers you deal with (again, on the specification side) or you can reduce the number of products in your catalog (if on the manufacturing side).

The second option limits innovation and stifles the development of the workplace, so let’s focus on the first option — how to make learning about new products easier and how to better market your products. When facing the paradox of choice, you should consider checking out INDEAL’s Pinpoint tool.

Pinpoint is part of the INDEAL platform and it is designed to help you sort through the mountain of products and manufacturers in the industry. It is a proprietary web-based tool that enables dealer sales and design teams to quickly filter and identify brands offering specific products and attributes. From there, exclusive imagery and additional resources can be accessed to help clients visualize their space with your suggested solutions.

Another option is reading industry publications like the Insider and attending trade fairs such as NeoCon, Orgatec and Clerkenwell Design Week, to name just a few. You might not like this, but regardless of how you decide to learn about new products, it’s going to take some work and effort on your part. Tools like Pinpoint, along with publications and shows make it easier, but learning about new products doesn’t happen by osmosis.

Manufacturers need to step up as well by providing clear, consistent messaging about how products are best utilized, especially new products on the market. This happens through advertising in publications like the Insider and consistently communicating with customers through blog posts, social media and in-person show-and-tell sessions.

Again, regardless of if you are on the specification side or the manufacturing side, if you do nothing, you’ll get nothing in return. And if you don’t explore new tools like Pinpoint and the Insider, you are going to be left behind by the industry and ultimately your customers.

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