Yearning for a new phone? You might be suffering from 'comparison neglect'

November 02, 2016

If you're reading this on a shiny new iPhone 7, new research suggests you might not have given your old phone its due before trading up.

Decades of research support the theory that people tend to rely on comparisons when making decisions. But when one of their options is a perceived upgrade over the status quo, consumers' rationality disappears, according to new research by University of Florida marketing professor Aner Sela.

Sela and Robyn LeBoeuf of Washington University examined the phenomenon of "comparison neglect," where people favor an upgraded product without evaluating the product they already own.

In Sela's work, 78 percent of consumers in one study readily admit that "comparing the upgrade to the status quo option is a necessary component in the decision," and 95 percent agreed that comparisons were important.

Yet, when faced with that decision, consumers fail to practice what they preach.

"We don't do as well as we know we should," Sela said. "People know this is important; there's a consensus about it. But, in the moment of truth, we're susceptible to these biases. That's the striking thing: Knowing is not enough."

The researchers conducted a series of five studies of more than 1,000 smartphone users from age 18 to 78. When consumers were asked to select the status quo or an upgraded smartphone or app -- even when they were supplied with a list of features of both products--the majority chose the upgrade.

Only when consumers were explicitly reminded to compare the status quo's existing features with the upgrade's features did the likelihood of upgrading decrease.

Considering people's tendency to use comparisons--and the high value people place on the status quo--Sela said the study's findings were unexpected.

"We were not asking people to recall existing features from memory," Sela said. "We put them in front of people side-by-side. But unless we tell them to compare, they don't do it. They don't use the information in the way they themselves say they should be using it. That's what makes this so surprising."

Sela noted that comparison neglect only occurs when a perceived upgrade is one of the options. When the same decision is perceived as a "choice" between two options--one more advanced than the other -- comparison neglect isn't influential.

Overcoming comparison neglect is a difficult hurdle for consumers, Sela said. Therefore, companies bear an ethical responsibility to market their products accurately -- an unlikely outcome, Sela said, considering the financial boon they receive from consumers paying for unnecessary upgrades.

Sela's work, "Comparison Neglect in Upgrade Decisions," has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Marketing Research.

University of Florida

Related Consumers Articles from Brightsurf:

When consumers trust AI recommendations--or resist them
The key factor in deciding how to incorporate AI recommenders is whether consumers are focused on the functional and practical aspects of a product (its utilitarian value) or on the experiential and sensory aspects of a product (its hedonic value).

Do consumers enjoy events more when commenting on them?
Generating content increases people's enjoyment of positive experiences.

Why consumers think pretty food is healthier
People tend to think that pretty-looking food is healthier (e.g., more nutrients, less fat) and more natural (e.g., purer, less processed) than ugly-looking versions of the same food.

How consumers responded to COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has been a catalyst for laying out the different threats that consumers face, and that consumers must prepare themselves for a constantly shifting landscape moving forward.

Is less more? How consumers view sustainability claims
Communicating a product's reduced negative attribute might have unintended consequences if consumers approach it with the wrong mindset.

In the sharing economy, consumers see themselves as helpers
Whether you use a taxi or a rideshare app like Uber, you're still going to get a driver who will take you to your destination.

Helping consumers in a crisis
A new study shows that the central bank tool known as quantitative easing helped consumers substantially during the last big economic downturn -- a finding with clear relevance for today's pandemic-hit economy.

'Locally grown' broccoli looks, tastes better to consumers
In tests, consumers in upstate New York were willing to pay more for broccoli grown in New York when they knew where it came from, Cornell University researchers found.

Should patients be considered consumers?
No, and doing so can undermine efforts to promote patient-centered health care, write three Hastings Center scholars in the March issue of Health Affairs.

Consumers choose smartphones mostly because of their appearance
The more attractive the image and design of the telephone, the stronger the emotional relationship that consumers are going to have with the product, which is a clear influence on their purchasing decision.

Read More: Consumers News and Consumers Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to