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Research into how consumers pick from a host of product features

University of Chicago Press Journals

Every consumer has found her or himself in the store aisle staring at the shelf and assessing the pros and cons of a host of products that are moderately similar, but that have some marked differences, too. Sometimes, however, the choice can be time-consuming and complex. What color? What flavor? What size? New research suggests that the ultimate decision is based squarely on the consumer's ability to differentiate between those brand attributes that add utility, called complementary features, and those that do not, called noncomplementary features.

"Consider a consumer who is choosing toothpaste among offerings by two different brands. The first brand offers four toothpastes differentiated by flavor: lemon, cinnamon, banana, and mint. The second brand offers four toothpastes differentiated by functional attributes: cavity prevention, tartar protection, teeth whitening, and breath freshening. Which of the two brands is more likely to be chosen by the consumer?" asks Alexander Chernev (Northwestern University) in his article in the March 2005 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

Chernev stresses the unique nature of this study--which utilized three separate experiments that tested this idea of the importance of "feature complementality."

"This research demonstrates, for the first time, that the probability of purchase from a given assortment is contingent on the complementarity of the features differentiating its options," explains Chernev, adding that "most prior studies have examined a scenario in which alternatives are differentiated primarily on noncomplementary features, such as size, color, shape, and flavor. Building on prior research, this article demonstrates that the impact of assortment on choice is further moderated by the complementarity of the features differentiating choice alternatives and that the adverse impact of assortment on choice is likely to be more pronounced in assortments differentiated by complementary features."


Feature Complementarity and Assortment in Choice. By ALEXANDER CHERNEV. © 2005 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. - Vol. 31 - March 2005

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