Did you recently buy a new iPhone? You may be programmed to upgrade your smartphone irrespective of whether you need it or not, a new study suggests. Decades of research supports the theory that people tend to rely on comparisons when making decisions, researchers said.
However, when one of their options is a perceived upgrade over the status quo, consumer’s rationality disappears, they said. Marketing professor Aner Sela from the University of Florida and Robyn LeBoeuf of Washington University in the US, examined the phenomenon of “comparison neglect,” where people favour an upgraded product without evaluating the one they own.
In Sela’s work, 78 per cent of consumers in one study readily admitted that “comparing the upgrade to the status quo
option is a necessary component in the decision,” and 95 per cent agreed that comparisons were important. However, when faced with that decision, consumers fail to practice what they preach, researchers said.
“We do not do as well as we know we should. People know this is important; there is a consensus about it. But, in the
moment of truth, we’re susceptible to these biases. That’s the striking thing: Knowing is not enough,” Sela said.
The researchers conducted a series of five studies of more than 1,000 smartphone users aged between 18 and 78.
When consumers were asked to select the status quo or an upgraded smartphone or app – even when they were supplied with a list of features of both products – the majority chose the upgrade. Only when consumers were explicitly reminded to compare the status quo’s existing features with the upgrade’s features did the likelihood of upgrading decrease.
Considering people’s tendency to use comparisons – and the high value people place on the status quo – Sela said the
study’s findings were unexpected. “We were not asking people to recall existing features from memory. We put them in front of people side-by-side. But unless we tell them to compare, they do not do it. They do not use the information in the way they themselves say they should be using it. That’s what makes this so surprising,” Sela said.
Sela noted that comparison neglect only occurs when a perceived upgrade is one of the options. When the same decision is perceived as a “choice” between two options – one more advanced than the other – comparison neglect is not influential. Overcoming comparison neglect is a difficult hurdle for consumers, Sela said.
The study appears in the Journal of Marketing Research.