The Effects of Decision Control and the Number of Alternatives in Purchase Decision Processes

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As consumers we make decisions every day—about whether or not to purchase a product, which brand to buy, what price is appropriate, or what quantity is needed. People make decisions everyday of their life. In most circumstances, having more options to choose from is desirable. But what if we have too many alternatives to consider when we make a decision? In the present work we investigate how two aspects of a consumer decision, namely decision control and the number of alternatives, affect consumers. Two studies examine how consumers' (a) decision control and (b) the number of alternatives affect consumers when they shop online. In Study 1 we find that the positive aspects of a decision (product attitude and purchase intention) can be enhanced by presenting consumers with control of the decision. In Study 2, we further explored how consumers can achieve more positive responses in a situation prompting potential choice overload. Two studies were held in a computer lab, where the participants could visit an online shopping mall website. The participants in study 1 had the goal of buying an MP3 player and in study 2, a USB security memory stick. An artificial online shopping mall was used to control for the possible influence of specific brand name. We found that all negative measures of the decision, viz., regret, hesitation, and difficulty, were lower when an advertisement for the product was present during the decision and there were many alternatives to choose between. In addition to reducing negative reactions, the presence of an ad also bolstered positive aspects of the decision. Satisfaction, purchase intention, and attitude toward the product all increased in the presence of ad when there were many alternatives. Increased positive feelings were also associated with the presence of ad in the condition with few alternatives, but generally to a lesser degree. Evidently when an ad is present, consumers tend to unconsciously simplify their decision process, thus decreasing the negative reactions and enhancing the positive ones.There are managerial implications. First, from the marketer's point of view, it is important to ensure consumers have control. Second, although past research has studied how decision makers themselves invoke heuristics to simplify their decisions, the findings from the present work suggest a basis for how companies might install in consumers a proclivity to adopt a heuristic-based rather than a systematic approach to processing large quantities of product data.In order to improve this research, the following points should also be considered. First of all, the on-line purchase decisions conducted were only hypothetical in nature. Would shoppers respond the same way in a real purchase situation? Second, to fully understand when the presence of an ad would lead to heuristic processing, and when it would not needs more investigation. Furthermore, future studies should also control for factors such as consumers' knowledge, and motivational factors should be considered as well as additional situational factors.


This article was originally published in Journal of Global Academy of Marketing Science. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Journal of Global Academy of Marketing Science


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