December 14, 2008

Third choice simplifies shopping decision

Shopping decision making is made easier when a consumer considers a third, less attractive option, U.S. researchers said.

Akshay Rao, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, said if a shopper is choosing a between a gorgeous sweater and suede pumps, the decision is simplified if a second, less desirable sweater, is also considered.

The study, scheduled to be published in the Journal of Marketing Research, found the less appealing sweater plays the role of a decoy that makes the other sweater appear more pleasing than before.

In some ways, it is quite straightforward, Rao said in a statement. When a consumer is faced with a choice, the presence of a relatively unattractive option improves the choice share of the most similar, better item.

Volunteers had their brains scanned while they made choices from among several sets of equally appealing options, as well as choice sets that included a third, somewhat less attractive option.

The brain scans showed that when making a choice between only two, equally preferred options -- subjects tended to display irritation because of the difficulty of the choice process. The third option made the choice process easier and relatively more pleasurable.