How Do People Decide – The Order Effect

I like to think that when I decide to buy something it’s because I’ve thought it through and it’s the best purchase. Logically and rationally. But I’ve read too much research on the unconscious and on decision making. So I know that people, including me, make decisions based on unconscious processing and that I don’t use logic as much as I’d like to think I do.

There’s this great research study that proves two concepts: 1) We don’t pay attention to very many attributes about a product, 2) We tend to choose the first item that appears on a product page of a web site.

Here’s the research citation:
Felfernig, A., G. Friedrich, B. Gula, M. Hitz, T. Kruggel, G. Leitner, R. Melcher, D. Riepan, S. Strauss, E. Teppan, and O. Vitouch. 2007. Persuasive recommendation: Serial position effects in knowledge-based recommender systems. In Persuasive Technology, Second International Conference on Persuasive Technology. New York: Springer.

Felfernig set up a website with tents. He had visitors to the site fill out a questionnaire about the type of camping they planned to do. Then the site recommended four tents based on ten different attributes, such as waterproofing, weight, air ventilation, etc. Based on the questionnaire you filled out, two of the four tents are rated as “best buys” for the attributes that are important to you. Which tent will you buy? Tent 1, 2, 3, or 4?

Even though there were ten attributes that the tents were compared on, participants in the study paid attention to only 2 or 3 of the attributes. And when it came time to pick a tent, the participants in the study didn’t even consider the attributes. They picked the first tent more than 2.5 times than any other. They chose the first one 200 times versus 60 for all the other choices combined.

But, just like me, the participants explained their choice, based on the logical decision they thought they were making. They would explain the choice of tent #1 by saying, “This tent is the most waterproof”, for example. They thought they were weighing all the attributes of all the tents, but in reality they were only looking at a few attributes and even those didn’t matter… all that mattered was which tent showed up first.

I’m going to see if I can pay attention to this the next time I go to buy something at a website where there are several choices on the page at once. Maybe if I notice I’m doing it I won’t be so prone to doing it?


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5 Replies to “How Do People Decide – The Order Effect”

  1. I was just in Door County for the weekend. A guy who owns a jewelry and clothing store was quite chatty (it was closing time and he even offered us a glass of wine). His conversation was about how people buy the first piece of clothing or jewelry they look at (I did). Most of his customers are women. They try an average of 6 pieces of clothing, and buy the first thing they tried. He wants to do a poll. I’m going to send him a link to your blog. Very interesting!

  2. This study should be replicated. Perhaps there are reasons specific to this study that explain why the subjects chose the first option. Maybe the researcher was breathing down their neck, or playing bad music, and they simply wanted to leave as quickly as possible. Or perhaps it was just set up in a very uninspiring way, and they just wanted to be done with it.

  3. You can note the same behaviour in surveys. I noticed that people often selected the first option which ‘seems’ good enough. Many people didn’t read the next answers anymore at all.

    This is especially true for the very first answer option.

    For that reason, I rearrange, where applicable, the answer sequence. Certainly when I poll for moods or impressions. At question #1 the answer sequence runs from negative to positive, at question #2 I do the reverse.

    With self evaluating questions, like ‘how’s your keyboard typing?’, I put the most negative answer at the top. If I use ‘excellent typist’ as first answer then it seems they are all ‘excellent typists’, which is usually not the case. :)

    It just happened that I know that people behave like that, but I never understood why.

    Nice article!
    .-= Edwin Waelbers´s last blog ..Videotheque: Test uw bewustzijn =-.

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