We've got your number: Consumers choose products with more technical specs

December 15, 2008

Many products have numbers attached: megapixels for cameras, wattage ratings for stereos, cotton counts for sheets. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that consumers are heavily influenced by quantitative specifications, even meaningless ones.

"We find that even when buyers can directly experience the underlying attributes and the specifications carry little or no additional information, they are still heavily influenced by the specifications," write authors Christopher K. Hsee (University of Chicago), Yang Yang, Yangjie Gu, and Jie Chen (Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China).

In the five related studies, researchers asked participants to choose between two options of digital cameras, towels, sesame oil, cell phones, and potato chips. In every study, participants preferred the products with the most specifications.

"The tendency to seek specifications is tested and confirmed in several studies involving different product categories. In one of the studies, for example, we asked participants themselves to generate specifications on the basis of their experiences," write the authors. "Hence, by design, the specifications carried no additional information beyond what the experience conveyed."

While the participants clearly chose products with more specifications, they didn't necessarily like the products more after they chose them.

"This research yields both theoretical implications for how preferences are formed, and practical implications for how marketers can use specifications to influence consumer choice and how consumers can resist such influences," the authors conclude.

More info: Christopher K. Hsee, Yang Yang, Yangjie Gu, and Jie Chen. "Specification Seeking: How Product Specifications Influence Consumer Preference." Journal of Consumer Research: April 2009.

Source: University of Chicago

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3 comments

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VOR
5 / 5 (2) Dec 15, 2008
And this number worship causes manufacturers to maximize numbers even at the expense of the design! For example, MANY still cameras have pixel counts WAY above that which is appropriate for the quality of the lens. The pixels are crammed onto a tiny sensor, and the result is FAR more noise than if they put the right number (less) of pixels on there,(and needlessly larger files). And then they'll employ a heavy noise reduction scheme that smears the detail. It's downright moronic. They should instead publish the noise figures prominently and proudly, boldly, aggressively state that their camera is BETTER becuase it has FEWER pixels.
Soylent
not rated yet Dec 15, 2008
Cynical people naturally assume the worst if the manufacturer does not list e.g. transfats, power consumption, pixel count, whatever.

I believe that's the correct response; people should take some care to understand what they're getting so they won't feel cheated and don't encourage bad products or services. What they're doing wrong is obsessing about the wrong numbers, see the gentleman above for an example.
CreepyD
not rated yet Dec 16, 2008
The thing is, we need some way of comparing products, and this is the only obvious way.
I definitely agree with VOR though.
People still compare GHz on CPU's too, even though that means very little in todays CPU market.

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