How the Order in Which You Make Decisions Affects What You Buy

When you’re deciding on a new pair of sneakers, what do you choose first: the style, the color or the material? New evidence shows that it’s not just those decisions themselves that matter but also the order in which you make them.

Researchers from Yale’s School of Management conducted a study where they examined how changing the sequence of these choices might affect a customer’s purchasing decisions — not just in the immediate term but also when presented later with a selection of products.

The study’s 84 participants, recruited through Amazon’s crowdsourcing site, Mechanical Turk, were asked to choose a sofa set, selecting either color first and fabric second or the reverse. Then they were asked to type a description of the product.

The researchers found that in these descriptions, participants tended to emphasize whichever trait they selected first, so even if two people chose the same product, they might describe it differently based on whether they chose fabric or color first.

This shift also seems to influence how people choose a replacement product: In a separate experiment, 158 students were asked to choose a handbag, selecting both color and logo. Then they were told that their first choice wasn’t available and were instructed to pick another. Among those who picked the logo first, 66 percent opted for another bag with the same logo; among those who had selected color first, only 41 percent chose a bag with the same logo.

“It will have implications later on,” said marketing professor Gal Zauberman, who wrote the study. “You still think differently about these objects.”

He suggested that the conclusions could be valuable to brands and retailers that are deciding on how to present a product to shoppers.

“Marketers, especially in a digital environment, have control over the order in which consumers see the attributes,” he said. “We might as well do it in a way that is conducive for consumer choice, satisfaction and potentially profitability.”

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