Ok – How are you today? Good? Excellent :o)
So, earlier this week, i had to grab some lunch. But where to go? In a perfect theoretical world, i’d research and test every option, but c’mon – this is just lunch right? True… but we make trivial decisions many times a day. Understanding the decision making process and what’s going on better from a consumer psychology perspective may help understand more complex decisions, like what blog post to write or maybe even a possible reason how people decide to vote.
So i thought i’d deconstruct my lunch decision to see what i could learn and how well it fitted decision making theories.
First, a bit of context. I’d been doing some research work in the local library, so i wanted somewhere located within 10 minutes walk that could provide me with something i liked to eat. I’d been working through some recommended research sources and i was feeling pleased with progress so i’d earned a break – the sun was out and i was looking forward to driving home that night. In addition, this was only my 5th day in the area, so i had really limited experience and knowledge of the nearby places to eat and what was available. Working on my own also had the effect that i wanted somewhere social, where other people were eating. Finally, this wasn’t a blow out lunch – so a low price was important.
The location, price and social requirements are known as ‘determinant attributes’. In a purely rational decision model, evaluating these should enable me to make my decision,
So, i started off by building my Consideration Set – my mental shortlist of places i thought may score highly against my determinant attributes.
- Antoniazzis – family firm, established for years – been here once before, sat out and enjoyed a slice of pizza and a good espresso
- Gregs – everybody knows Gregs (don’t they?) – functional but tasty food
- Blue sky – never been in – but came across these guys on the web while researching nice places to get breakfast and was struck by the very positive reviews online.
Next, the type of decision to be made. Kardes (p65) defines 4 primary types of consumer decisions based on the degree of involvement and amount of information processing required: brand laziness, brand loyalty, variety seeking and problem solving.
Involvement is a reflection of how important the decision is from an emotional or concern perspective. Information processing is the effort expended – for example low information processing is the equivalent of responding intuitively – without much conscious thought.
For the decision about where to eat, i had relatively low involvement however i had a mixture of knowledge levels about the different options and no clear favourite. To decide between these would require a more moderate level of information processing.
This combination of low involvement and medium to high information processing defines my ‘where to eat lunch’ decision as a ‘Variety Seeking’ type decision. In fact, because i wasn’t being forced to look around (for example because my favourite placed to eat was closed), i was indulging in a particular flavour of Variety Seeking called: ‘Intrinsic Variety Seeking’.
I decided to walk around the area and take a look at each venue.
First Gregs. I know the food, low prices and hey – they even had some tables so i can sit amongst others and satisfy the social requirement (though people do just seem to be eating quick and heading off). So Gregs ticks all my boxes
On to option 2 – Antoniazzis. I’ve been here before and i know a little about the story behind this brand. They certainly had reasonable food within the price range however once inside and looking round, I felt there was less of a fit from a social perspective.
Finally, Blue Sky. This was interesting. First I had to walk up an alleyway to find the door. From the door, i couldn’t actually see the cafe as it was upstairs. Figuring nothing ventured, nothing gained, i headed on up the stairs, hearing an increasing hubbub to find myself in a large space with wooden floors and lots of people eating and talking, very similar to a couple of other coffee bars and cafes i know and visit regularly.
So a number of the options met my requirements but which one did i pick and why?
I picked Blue Sky. So now to understand why this was the more likely choice from a consumer psychology perspective.
Firstly, why didn’t i pick the tried and trusted Gregs? After all, it was my first stop and it met all my criteria – so why invest more time and risk disappointment elsewhere?
Investigating the consumer psychology literature reveals that positive mood may have been one factor. In 1993, Kahn et al investigated the influence of positive affect on variety seeking. Using sweets and praise to induce positive affect among a group of consumers, they showed that this led to increased variety seeking within safe, enjoyable product categories.
Conversely, whilst standing outside Gregs, i was faced with a choice of a brand in front of me (a stimulus based choice) vs others i was trying to remember (memory based choices).
In this ‘mixed choice’ state, stimulus brands usually have the advantage (Biehal et al, 1983). So what happened? According to Kardes et al (p103) this effect can be reversed in special cases, such as where memory brands seem too good to be ignored.
I originally found the Blue Sky Cafe when Googling places for breakfast. The search result for the search ‘Best breakfast in Bangor’ shows Blue Sky prominently on the page – as though it offers the best breakfasts in Bangor (see screen shot below). Research in the medical field has shown that information delivered by a perceived expert can be more effective at causing change (Web et al, 2006). So the strong memory was enough to overcome the immediate attraction of Gregs as i stood before the shop -my memory told me that Blue Sky was potentially too good to be ignored. This also brought home to me just how easy it is to form an incorrect memory – when writing this post, i rechecked and Blue Sky is not actually ranked #1 on the various individual result pages for that search – however the prominent position and images of Blue Sky on Google were enough for me to form the impression that they were the #1 place for breakfast in Bangor. I use Google often and to me this highlights the potential risk of perceiving Google as an ‘expert’.
But why select Blue Sky?
Heuristics are quick ‘rules of thumb’ that consumers sometimes use when making decisions. One reason these can come into play is when decisions need to be made quickly as there is less time for more considered thinking.
One particular heuristic researched by Tversky et al in 1974 – the ‘Representativeness Heuristic’ – occurs when a consumer observes features on a new product that are similar to a known product. The consumer then also makes assumptions about other similarities, even though these may be incorrect.
In the case of Blue Sky, when i arrived at the top of the stairs, conscious of all the people around me, i found myself wanting to make a decision quickly. Scanning the room i took in the chalk board coffee menu, wooden floors and reclaimed tables/furnishings, and immediately formed a judgement that i would eat there. Thinking this through with hindsight, Blue Sky shares these features with one of my favourite, regular Manchester Cafes – Katsouris.
Despite having no first hand knowledge of the coffee and food at Blue Sky, the representativeness heuristic suggests that i would have the experience i enjoyed at my regular cafe back home, here in this different cafe.
Another factor could be the ‘sunk cost’ effect – once an investment has been made in an endeavour, there is a tendency to continue (Arkes and Blumer, 1985). So having ‘invested’ my time in walking upstairs to see the cafe, i was more likely to stay.
So in conclusion, decision making is a complex business. Although the consumer psychology is becoming better understood, in reality, many different influences and factors are occurring simultaneously. Understanding the interraction between these and which ones will dominate is not straightforward.
With hindsight, i can see how my decision process fits against the models and how understanding some of the factors at play such as heuristics can help people make better decisions.
In the end, the espresso and sandwich i had at Blue Sky were excellent, the ambience was great and i left feeling that i had made the right choice.
Which heuristics affected a recent decision you made?
Arkes, H.R. and Blumer, C., 1985. The psychology of sunk cost. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 35(1), pp.124-140.
Biehal, G. and Chakravarti, D., 1983. Information accessibility as a moderator of consumer choice. Journal of Consumer Research, 10(1), pp.1-14.
Kahn, B.E. and Isen, A.M., 1993. The influence of positive affect on variety seeking among safe, enjoyable products. Journal of Consumer Research,20(2), pp.257-270.
Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D., 1975. Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. In Utility, probability, and human decision making (pp. 141-162). Springer Netherlands.
Webb, T.L. and Sheeran, P., 2006. Does changing behavioral intentions engender behavior change? A meta-analysis of the experimental evidence.Psychological bulletin, 132(2), p.249.