Consumers generally prefer having more options when choosing among products
but not when making choices involving the distant future, according to a new
study in the Journal of Consumer Research.
“The lure of assortment may not be as universal as previously thought.
Consumers’ preferences for large assortments can decrease due to a key
psychological factor—psychological distance,” write authors Joseph K. Goodman
and Selin A. Malkoc (both Washington University in St. Louis).
Retailers have known for decades that consumers prefer large selections and are
lured by more options and greater variety. For example, when planning a family
outing to an ice cream shop this coming weekend, a consumer would most likely
choose the local shop offering thirty-three flavors over another in the
neighborhood offering fewer options.
How universal is this demand for more choice? Are there instances when smaller
selections are acceptable or even desirable? The authors found that consumer
preference for larger selections decreased for decisions involving psychological
distance when consumers had to choose between restaurants, ice cream shops,
chocolatiers, home appliances, and vacation packages. Psychologically distant
events take place in a far-away location or in the future.
Psychological distance is common concern when consumers are making decisions
related to the future such as vacation, insurance, or retirement planning. In such
instances, consumers tend to focus on the end goal and less about how to get
there. When planning a vacation that is months away, a consumer would
probably prefer to hear about fewer dining options in the city they will be visiting
than if their vacation was coming up in less than a week.
“In product categories where psychological distance is automatically evoked, it
might not be necessary for retailers to offer a large (and overwhelming) number
of options. Consumers may even be attracted to those sellers offering a smaller
and simpler assortment of options,” the authors conclude.
Consumers who trust their feelings are more likely to make choices based on
what “feels right” even when feelings are irrelevant to their decision, according to
a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.
“Certain individuals have a stronger belief that their feelings will generally point
them in the right direction. These individual differences in trust in feelings are not
fixed personality traits, but rather recurring tendencies that arise from the person’s
history of success or failure in reliance on feelings, as well as from surrounding
social and cultural norms,” write authors Tamar Avnet (Yeshiva University),
Michel Tuan Pham (Columbia University), and Andrew T. Stephen (University of
Should I buy a shirt based on how it makes me feel or based on its price? Should I
buy a house because it makes me feel good or because it’s well priced? Should I
get married because I feel like it is the right thing to do or because my spouse is a
good provider? Consumers can rely on their feelings to make various decisions
but what determines whether or not they will use their feelings as information?
The authors found that trust in feelings influences the degree to which people
believe that their feelings provide trustworthy information. They studied
consumers who played the classic ultimatum game in which two players have to
split a sum of money based on one of the players making an offer and the other
accepting or rejecting that offer.
High trust in feelings amplified the tendency to reject unfair offers—an
emotionally driven response that is considered rationally inferior—but did not
affect the probability of accepting fair offers. “High trust in feelings encourages
choices that ‘feel right’ even in the presence of compelling information that
favors an opposite response,” the authors write.
“For feelings to be relied upon, either a high trust in feelings or a high relevance
of feelings seems sufficient. Trust in feelings and relevance of feelings are
therefore distinct and equally important determinants of the perceived information
value of feelings,” the authors conclude.
Moderate background noise enhances creativity and makes consumers more
likely to buy new and innovative products, according to a new study in
the Journal of Consumer Research.
“A moderate level of noise enhances creativity compared to both low and high
levels of noise,” write authors Ravi Mehta (University of Illinois Urbana-
Champaign), Ryu (Juliet) Zhu (University of British Columbia), and Amar
Cheema (University of Virginia). “Moderate background noise induces
distraction which encourages individuals to think at a higher, abstract level, and
consequently exhibit higher creativity.”
The authors created a noise environment similar to that of a roadside diner or a
noisy mall and tested people’s creativity at different levels of background noise.
When asked to come up with ideas for a new type of mattress or list uncommon
uses for a common object, consumers were most creative when the background
noise was moderate compared to lower or higher noise conditions.
“For individuals looking for creative solutions to daily problems, instead of
burying oneself in a quiet room trying to figure out a solution, walking out of
one’s comfort zone and getting into a relatively noisy environment (such as a
café) may trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas,”
write the authors.
The authors also found that consumers were more likely to choose an innovative
product over a traditional one when there was a moderate level of background
noise. For example, consumers were much more likely to choose a pair of
running shoes with new and innovative features over a standard pair at this
optimal level of background noise.
“A moderate level of noise not only enhances creativity but also leads to greater
adoption of innovative products. In order to encourage adoption of new and
innovative products, companies might consider equipping their showrooms with a
moderate level of ambient noise,” the authors conclude.
Consumers routinely overspend on unbudgeted purchases such as birthday gifts,
car repairs, or luxury chocolates because they underestimate the overall number
of such “exceptional” purchases, according to a new study in the Journal of
“This tendency to underbudget for so-called ‘exceptional’ purchases occurs
because, although each purchase is unusual in isolation, when combined they tend
to occur with unexpected frequency,” write authors Abigail B. Sussman
(Princeton University) and Adam L. Alter (Stern School of Business, New York
University). “People fail to recognize just how many items fall into this
exceptional category, so they spend more than they would if they realized how
often they were spending on these exceptional purchases.”
The authors found that consumers forecasted ordinary expenses accurately but
underestimated how much they would spend on exceptional products. Consumers
were willing to pay more for exceptional items when presented one at a time than
when they were presented all at once. “Consumers tend to treat each exceptional
purchase as though it exists in isolation, rather than incorporating it into their
budget as one in a series of unique purchases,” write the authors.
For example, imagine that one of your favorite bands is performing nearby. The
ticket costs more than you would ordinarily spend, but you have never seen this
band live and decide the experience is well worth the cost. The following week,
your TV breaks and you buy a really expensive replacement since you only buy a
new TV once every few years. A week later, you are celebrating your 10th
wedding anniversary. Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, you decide that the
occasion warrants a splurge.
“Failure to aggregate unusual purchases leads consumers to splurge on purchases
that they would view more conservatively if they understood these connections.
Overall, this tendency results in overspending and under-saving,” the authors
conclude. “Understanding differences in accounting for ordinary and exceptional
expenses can help consumers make wiser budgeting decisions.”
Consumers often shop to cope with stressful situations but they are much more
selective when it comes to shopping as a way to cope with future challenges,
according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.
“Television personality Tammy Faye Bakker once said: ‘I always say shopping is
cheaper than a psychiatrist.’ Consistent with this statement, the present research
shows that consumers use products to reactively cope with challenges to their
self-image as well as to proactively protect themselves against potential
challenges,” write authors Soo Kim and Derek D. Rucker (both Kellogg School of
Management, Northwestern University).
Most people can relate to emotional eating or nibbling on snacks to forget about
an upsetting or stressful event. “Retail therapy” is another common coping
mechanism. After a stressful experience that challenges their self-image,
consumers tend to increase their overall consumption in order to distract
themselves and “forget all about it.”
But do consumers shop to cope only after the fact? The authors found that
consumers also shop proactively when facing potential future challenges to their
self-image. However, they are very selective in choosing only products that are
specific to the potentially negative situation.
For example, a student might buy a bottle of “Smart Water” before taking a math
test. A consumer might splurge on some expensive jewelry prior to attending a
high school reunion to guard against the perception that they have not been
successful in life. Another might purchase a designer suit prior to presenting at an
important meeting where their business savvy might be scrutinized.
“Prior to receiving any negative feedback, consumers select products that are
specifically associated with bolstering or guarding the part of the self that might
come under threat. After receiving negative feedback, consumers seem to
increase their consumption more generally as consumption may serve as a means
to distract them from the negative feedback,” the authors conclude.
Several researchers have shown that colors have an effect on our emotions. Blue rooms in hospitals makes people feel calm for example, while red triggers aggression.
Amar Cheema, McIntire School of Commerce and Rajesh Bagchi,, Pamplin College of Business have written the research paper: "The Effect of Red Background Color on Willingness-to-pay:
The Moderating Role of Selling Mechanism", showing that colors in a shopping situation affect our decision making. And the research points out that this is the case whether the shopping environment is online or offline. They write: "Our results suggest that incidental exposure to color on webpage backgrounds or on walls
in brick-and-mortar stores can affect willingness-to-pay. Our findings therefore have important
implications for website and store design. It is fairly straightforward to change background
colors of websites and firms could even customize colors based on selling mechanism and
product characteristics. For instance, in situations where consumers compete with each other to
buy a scarce or a limited edition product, firms may increase consumers’ willingness-to-pay by
exposure to red versus blue backgrounds. By contrast, in situations where a product is readily
available and the consumer competes with the seller to get a lower price through extended price
search or through haggling, consumers’ willingness-to-pay may be enhanced via exposure to
blue versus red color backgrounds."
Do rebelliousness, emotional control, toughness and thrill-seeking still make up the essence of coolness?
Can performers James Dean and Miles Davis still be considered the models of cool?
Research led by a University of Rochester Medical Center psychologist and published by the Journal of Individual Differences has found the characteristics associated with coolness today are markedly different than those that generated the concept of cool.
“When I set out to find what people mean by coolness, I wanted to find corroboration of what I thought coolness was,” said Ilan Dar-Nimrod, Ph.D., lead author of “Coolness: An Empirical Investigation.” “I was not prepared to find that coolness has lost so much of its historical origins and meaning—the very heavy countercultural, somewhat individualistic pose I associated with cool.
“James Dean is no longer the epitome of cool,” Dar-Nimrod said. “The much darker version of what coolness is still there, but it is not the main focus. The main thing is: Do I like this person? Is this person nice to people, attractive, confident and successful? That’s cool today, at least among young mainstream individuals.”
In research that has developed over several years, Dar-Nimrod, currently a post-doctoral fellow in the Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry, and his colleagues recruited almost 1,000 people in the Vancouver, British Columbia, area, who completed an extensive questionnaire on the attributes, behaviors and individuals they associated with the word cool.
In the journal article, the research is described as the first systematic, quantitative examination of what characteristics recur in popular understandings of the cool personality.
The researchers conducted three separate studies. In Study 1, participants generated characteristics that they perceived to be cool. In Study 2, two samples of participants rated dozens of these characteristics on two dimensions: coolness and social desirability. In Study 3, participants rated friends both on their coolness and on a variety of personality descriptors that were identified as relevant in the other studies.
A significant number of participants used adjectives that focused on positive, socially desirable traits, such as friendly, competent, trendy and attractive.
“I got my first sunglasses when I was about 13,” said Dar-Nimrod. “There wasn’t a cooler kid on the block for the next few days. I was looking cool because I was distant from people. My emotions were not something they could read. I put a filter between me and everyone else. That, in my mind, made me cool. Today, that doesn’t seem to be supported. If anything, sociability is considered to be cool, being nice is considered to be cool. And in an oxymoron, being passionate is considered to be cool—at least, it is part of the dominant perception of what coolness is. How can you combine the idea of cool—emotionally controlled and distant—with passionate?”
At some levels, participants in the study still appreciated the traditional elements of cool, such as rebelliousness and detachment, but not as strongly as friendliness and warmth.
“We have a kind of a schizophrenic coolness concept in our mind,” Dar-Nimrod said. “Almost any one of us will be cool in some people’s eyes, which suggests the idiosyncratic way coolness is evaluated. But some will be judged as cool in many people’s eyes, which suggests there is a core valuation to coolness, and today that does not seem to be the historical nature of cool. We suggest there is some transition from the countercultural cool to a generic version of it’s good and I like it. But this transition is by no way completed.”
Dar-Nimrod’s main research interests are the effects of genetics and social environment on decision-making and health behaviors. The coolness research began when Dar-Nimrod was a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia. He and a fellow student, Ian G. Hansen, a co-author of the Journal of Individual Differences article and currently an assistant professor at York College of City University of New York, argued over whether Steve Buscemi, an actor in the movie “Fargo” and the cable television series “Boardwalk Empire,” is cool.
“Ian thought Buscemi was cool and I could not accept him as cool because he was so unattractive and seemed such a weasel,” Dar-Nimrod said. “That got us thinking about just what coolness is.”
The coolness findings could point to possible health impacts.
“Coolness may have some relevance to health behaviors,” Dar-Nimrod said. “Smoking or drug use, for example, could be connected with a view of coolness that includes rebelliousness or a countercultural stance. This can inform future health research on behaviors. Is coolness related to people’s choice of unhealthy behaviors, such body modifications, unprotected sex or even eating behaviors?”
Retail addict and marketing professional. I have dedicated most of my working life to the understanding of how to influence the consumer no matter if it´s inside or out of the store.
Owner of Magnus Ohlsson Retail Management.