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Little Boxes of Decision Avoidance

Marketing, Psychology, choice, decision making

Life would be easier if everything you needed were sent to you in a box. A few months ago, I subscribed to Quinciple, a service that sends me a box of groceries once a week, which I pick up at a store a few blocks from my apartment. It saves me a little time and maybe a little money—but, mostly, it spares me from the so-called paradox of choice, or the paralysis that comes with having too many options while shopping. I have wasted hours of my life reading the fine print on cereal boxes, lipstick boxes, and sneaker boxes. I am forever looking for a reason to choose one loaf of bread or one brand of shampoo over countless others. (There is often no reason.) Once, I went to a grocery store to buy a soda and walked out, empty-handed, fifteen minutes later. Somewhere between the caffeine-free Diet Cherry Coke and the sixth flavor of seltzer, I forgot why I was even there at all.

Over the past three or four years, dozens of “subscription e-commerce” services have cropped up. These companies pick out and package virtually any kind of product imaginable—food, pet toys, clothes, condoms, cosmetics—into boxes that are delivered to hundreds of thousands of American doorsteps on a weekly or monthly basis. With Quinciple, I spend about forty dollars a week and get enough groceries—meat, vegetables, cheese, bread, and so on—to make two or three meals that each feed two people. Blue Apron, one of several larger competitors, sends you all the ingredients you need to make recipes designed by name-brand chefs, for around ten dollars per meal per person.

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