Consumers favor choice in their buying strategies. Yet it is also a well-known psychological phenomenon that providing too many choices can be overwhelming.

Apple seems to be at one end of this purchase-decision philosophy, offering a limited set of platforms (iPad2 vs “new iPad”, MacBook vs MacBook Air, etc) and very few options within those choices (eg WiFi/GSM/CDMA for iPhone or iPad). In limiting variety, this strategy – along with their billion dollar war chest to provide unmatched buying power – allows them to streamline their supply chain and still achieve high margins on their products.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s Dell. Dell of the razor-thin margins. Barely hanging on in the “post-PC era” Dell.

I needed a very specific type of PC – a large-quantity purchase, no less – for a project I’m working on. Something in the desktop-to-low-end-rackmount range. Of which Dell has no less than 25 models in this class. Vostro, Optiplex, Precision, R210, R5500, and so on – how would a computer novice navigate within such a collection?!? Apparently, Dell expects you to narrow things down by keying on certain phrases like “rack optimized”, “next-generation processing”, or “certified performance” to decide on a model. Pick one to customize, and you are faced with sometimes dozens of CPU choices alone. It’s positively overwhelming. I guess Dell thinks offering unparalleled choice is what the consumer wants/needs, despite psychological evidence to the contrary.

And yet even with all those permutations, after countless hours navigating the Dell store, what I was looking for could not be found. A note from a Dell sales rep confirmed it: “This solution doesn’t exist“.

So I bought HP.

The episode made me wonder if this was one of the reasons why Dell is in such trouble