Assistant Professor Ty Henderson investigates the factors that influence consumers’ buying decisions. This article, the first in a two-part set, explores the issue from the buyer’s perspective. The second article focuses on how sellers can use these findings to their advantage.
Researchers have a long history of investigating how some individuals look for certain “must-have” or “can’t-have” qualities when buying a product. For example, some people won’t consider certain brands of cars. Some might insist on minimum performance thresholds for consumer electronics. However, the buying process for many big-ticket consumer goods, such as cars and televisions, is often a joint decision rather than an individual one.
Ty Henderson, assistant professor of marketing at McCombs, researches what happens when spouses make buying decisions together and how they adjust when their preferences conflict. “The husband has his preferences for the product attributes, and the wife has her preferences,” Henderson says. “The give-and-take of a joint decision gets interesting when must-have and can’t-have attributes are involved.”
In a recent study coauthored with scholars at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Henderson found that some approaches to decision-making result in better outcomes than others.
Screens and Thresholds
Henderson and his colleagues looked at how buyers evaluate different kinds of consumer electronics — including flat-screen televisions, laptops, and digital cameras — as they make buying decisions. This study specifically focused on couples, or dyads, in academic parlance.
One important element to consider is whether there are certain qualities or price points that will cause consumers to reject a product outright. Buyers most often screen out products based on brand or price — this scenario is known as a non-compensatory model.
“Basically they say things like, ‘There’s no way I would ever buy a Hyundai car. It’s just not going to happen,’” Henderson says. Even if the seller lowers the price significantly, the customer will not consider buying the product.
Similarly, if a buyer has made up his or her mind on a certain price threshold, it can be very difficult (if not impossible) to win them over, even if the product is a desirable brand and has good features.
Saying No Can Improve Outcomes
Henderson’s study primarily focuses on what happens when the couple disagrees about the choices they do or do not want to consider. If the husband doesn’t want to buy a Toyota but the wife wants Toyota to remain an option, someone will eventually have to concede.
In this example, if the wife gets her way and the Toyota option remains on the table, the consideration set is expanded, meaning the husband has to broaden the range of choices he was initially willing to consider. On the other hand, if the wife agrees to the husband’s request to strike Toyotas from the list, the consideration set has been restricted.
The researchers found that when couples agree to exclude alternatives and narrow down their options, they are more likely to be satisfied with their eventual purchase and less likely to feel regret. So, when there is disagreement, the ideal way to break the stalemate is to restrict the consideration set as much as possible by throwing out options that appeal to only one person in the couple.
“When we both agree to kick out certain brands, we make faster decisions, we have to compromise less and we make more efficient decisions. So that’s good news,” Henderson says.
The researchers also found that the use of “must-have” and “can’t-have” decision-making shortcuts is linked to product knowledge: More knowledgeable consumers tend to screen out specific product attributes, while less knowledgeable consumers tend to screen their options based on price.