First Click: The importance of knowing when to stop searching

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When you see a good move, look for a better one. I was reminded of this classic chess maxim by a recent tweet, and I find it perfectly sums up the mindset behind something I see as a problem in modern-day shopping. We just don’t know when to stop searching for that something better.

With so much choice available online, trying to make any decision nowadays is turning into an arduous task. Start reading a Raymond Chandler thriller and you’re immediately burdening yourself with the opportunity cost of not reading every other book. Amazon has them all, which is convenient but can also be guilt-tinged. The more available and accessible the world becomes, the heavier our fear of missing out on the best parts of it grows. Am I buying the best jeans that I can buy? Is this the best choice of smartphone, console, bed linen, kitchenware, and office furniture? Or is there better?

What else is out there?

Now, I’m sure not everyone is plagued by this overthinking phenomenon, but I find it especially prevalent when people are shopping for gadgets. One of the most common queries I get as a tech reviewer is from people who are perfectly satisfied with the phone they already have, asking me if the latest one is worth upgrading to. How could you possibly upgrade if you are already happy? A friend recently auditioned the Beoplay H6 headphones I’ve been recommending for the past month, and got in touch to say he really enjoyed them, but asked if he should consider "stepping up" to the H7s. I said no.

The danger of dwelling for too long on any decision is that you end up searching not for your ideal object but for an idealized version of it. You want good audio in your phone, so you look to the HTC 10, but then you also want a good camera, so you look at LG’s V10, but your phone must be compact, so you look at the Huawei P9, but you want better software, so you look at the Nexus 6P, but you want good audio, so…

sometimes you have to make a choice

In chess, we have the natural limitations of time and a finite set of possible moves. We can actually weigh each possibility and eventually make a choice. But with more than 1,300 smartphone vendors — just vendors, not models — 30 million instantly streamable songs, thousands of movies, and catalogs upon catalogs of consumer choice, shopping around is turning into an ordeal.

I humbly suggest, then, an alternative aphorism for shoppers: when you see a good product that you want and can afford, just buy it. Hunting around for a better thing or better price has a cost in and of itself: your time.

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