Go with your gut, especially when shopping

October 18, 2006

When making purchasing decisions, we are frequently forced to choose between practicality and emotional appeal. For example, we may know that one car has better gas mileage but we just enjoy the feeling of driving another car. Or, we may need waterproof winter boots but opt instead for feather-trimmed stilettos. Which is a better criterion in the long run: practical features or emotional response?

While making purchases based on gut reaction instead of objective criteria might seem foolish, results from a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research suggest that emotional choices often lead to greater satisfaction - not just for the immediate afterglow of a few hours, but even after we've had time to think it over.

"Our research showed that consumers who based their decisions on the feelings associated with the product actually tended to be more satisfied with their purchase--both immediately after the purchase and three weeks later," explains Peter R. Darke (University of British Columbia) and his co-authors.

Prior research has suggested that consumers use feelings to choose only in circumstances where they either can't or won't think about objective measures (e.g., when it is difficult to directly compare two options, or when the purchase is considered unimportant).

However, this research expands our understanding of the relationship between feelings and consumer choice, finding that consumers are willing to base their decisions on emotions even when they are both willing and able to think carefully about the available alternatives.

"We found a significant proportion of consumers chose an option that was associated with positive feelings despite the fact that they recognized the other option had better features," the authors write.

Thus, the research challenges existing assumptions that consumer choices based on feelings are impulsive choices that the buyers will regret in the long term. As Darke says, "These findings suggest it can be good, rather than a mistake, for consumer to base their choices on the feelings they have about products, in the sense that such purchases ultimately lead to greater satisfaction."
Peter R. Darke, Amitava Chattopadhyay, and Laurence Ashworth "The Importance and Functional Significance of Affective Cues in Consumer Choice." Journal of Consumer Research: Dec. 2006.

University of Chicago Press Journals

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