Learning from our mistakes: Consumers won't be deceived twice

Feb 23, 2009

Sometimes a high price tag, a label, or an ingredient can lead us to believe that we're purchasing a high-quality item. But what happens if the attribute that attracted us to the product is false or meaningless? A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research examines consumer responses to "biasing cues," features that consumers assume are related to the quality of the item.

"Often consumers' beliefs about the relationship between an attribute and product quality are correct," write authors Wouter Vanhouche (University of Central Florida, Orlando) and Stijn van Osselaer (Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University). "For example, higher-priced products are often better quality products. However, in many other cases, those beliefs are incorrect. For example, many low-priced products are actually quite good and many high-priced products are actually quite bad. Some attributes are even just irrelevant to product quality or are completely meaningless. For example, putting silk in shampoo does not do anything for hair but consumers may nevertheless expect it to."

Past research has demonstrated that biasing cues can successfully deceive consumers into buying items. But the authors wanted to find out if the same consumers would be deceived a second time. Using laboratory experiments involving orange juice, polo shirts, and paper towels, the authors found that biased quality expectations did not carry over to a second purchase. In fact, participants learned from those initial judgment mistakes.

"We found that consumers' quality judgments were actually made more accurate by the presence of such attributes," write the authors. "The presence of a high price on a low-quality orange juice or a Florida (vs. New Jersey) bottling location on a low-quality juice did not make the consumers more positive about the product one week after trying the product, but helped them to remember that the high-priced or the Florida-bottled juice was bad," the authors explain.

The message to marketers is that consumers are not so easily duped. "Marketers should think twice about trying to mislead consumers by putting high prices on low-quality products or by touting attributes that seem to signal quality but in reality are meaningless," write the authors. "Marketers using such attributes may succeed at getting consumers to try their products, but the misleading actions are likely to backfire at the time of repeat purchase."

More information: Wouter Vanhouche and Stijn van Osselaer. "The Accuracy Enhancing Effect of Biasing Cues." Journal of Consumer Research: August 2009.

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: Less privileged kids shine at university, according to study

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Why are UK teenagers skipping school?

Dec 18, 2014

Analysis of the results of a large-scale survey reveals the extent of truancy in English secondary schools and sheds light on the mental health of the country's teens.

Fewer lectures, more group work

Dec 18, 2014

Professor Cees van der Vleuten from Maastricht University is a Visiting Professor at Wits University who believes that learning should be student centred.

How to teach all students to think critically

Dec 18, 2014

All first year students at the University of Technology Sydney could soon be required to take a compulsory maths course in an attempt to give them some numerical thinking skills. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.