Faculty Research: Study Shows that Decision Aids Can Hurt Consumer Decision Making

Journal of Retailing (2014)

Nicholas Lurie. Co-Author: Na Wen.

To help consumers deal with increasing amounts of information, many online retailers offer simple decision aids, such as the ability to sort products on a particular product attribute. Intuitively, such aids should help consumers but, in a recent article, Nicholas Lurie and a colleague at City University of Hong Kong show that simple decision aids can hurt consumers’ ability to make good decisions.

Whether decision aids help or hurt depends on the extent to which choices involve tradeoffs among attributes. For example, a consumer buying a laptop might want a large screen and lots of memory. If large screen laptops usually come with lots of memory then using a decision aid to sort on screen size will help the consumer choose the best laptop for her. However if, instead, the consumer wants a large screen and light weight laptop, and large screen laptops tend to be heavy, sorting on screen size will not enhance choice. The authors suggest that consumers use simple decision aids as substitutes for cognitive effort and find that the more consumers use such aids, the lower the quality of their decisions. Providing consumers with multiple decision aids, such as the ability to eliminate as well as sort products, is one way to overcome the negative aspects of such aids.

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