A great deal of research in consumer decision-making and social-cognition has explored consumers’ attempts to simplify choices by bolstering their tentative choice candidate and/or denigrating the other alternatives. The present research investigates a diametrically opposed process, whereby consumers complicate their decisions. The authors demonstrate that, in order to complicate their choices, consumers increase choice conflict by over-weighing small disadvantages of superior alternatives, converging overall evaluations of alternatives, reversing the ordinal value of attributes, and even choosing less preferred alternatives. Further, the results from five studies support a unifying theoretical framework, namely the effort-compatibility principle. Specifically, it is argued that consumers strive for compatibility between the effort they anticipate and the effort that they actually exert. When a certain decision seems more difficult than initially expected, a simplifying process ensues. However, when the decision feels easier to resolve than was anticipated (e.g., when consumers face an important, yet easy choice), consumers artificially increase their effort.
Reprinted with permission from the Journal of Marketing Research, published by the American Marketing Association, Rom Schrift, Oded Netzer, and Ran Kivetz, 48, no. 2 (April 2010): 308-326.