Context Is Everything: Key To Consumer Preferences
When consumers shop for televisions or cereal, what makes them prefer one option to another? Which brand will they purchase again and tell their friends about?
New research in the Journal of Consumer Research reveals that a product’s attractiveness can shift depending on the other choices that are available at the time. Authors Song-Oh Yoon (Korea University Business School) and Itamar Simonson (Stanford University) demonstrate that if consumers perceive they’re choosing the best item from a set of options, they are more likely to feel good enough about choosing the product again next time.
“These findings show that the choice process and the configuration of the choice set have long-term effects on the strength, stability, and attribution of the resulting preferences and can even influence product satisfaction,” write the authors.
The research found that the configuration of the choice set mattered greatly when it came to creating consumer preference. In the studies, participants were presented with products (food processors, lawn mowers, portable grills, binoculars, cars, cordless phones, etc.). The products were presented in three types of choice sets: asymmetric dominance (where one choice was clearly superior to the other two), compromise (where one choice was intermediate to the other two), or control (two options that were somewhat equivalent). After participants made choices, they rated the products and their satisfaction with their choices. In five different studies that shifted the products and choice sets, the researchers found that the strength of preference for one option over another can be affected by the context of the choice in ways people don’t realize.
“A pen selected from a set in which it asymmetrically dominated another pen produced a more positive writing experience and a greater willingness to pay for the pen than if the same pen was selected from a set in which it did not dominate another option,” the authors explain.
JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. • Vol. 35 • August 2008
All rights reserved. 0093-5301/2008/3502-0011 DOI: 10.1086/587630
Choice Set Configuration as a Determinant of Preference Attribution and Strength
Song-Oh Yoon, Itamar Simonson
Despite the growing consensus that consumer preferences are often constructed when decisions are made, we still know very little about the factors that determine the strength and stability of constructed preferences. We propose that the manner in which preferences are formed has a significant effect on their strength and stability. In particular, we propose that option set configuration, asymmetric dominance versus compromise, drives the decision process and whether consumers (consciously) focus on the chosen option or the context. This, in turn, affects the resulting decision process trace, as reflected in choice stability, confidence, and attribution. The results of five studies support this proposition. Thus, the strength of constructed preferences is a function of choice problem characteristics and the construction process.