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