When deciding whether to buy an item, consumers sometimes think about other ways they could spend their money. Past research has explored how increasing the salience of outside options (i.e., alternatives not immediately available in the choice set) influences purchase decisions, but whether the type of alternative considered systematically affects buying behavior remains an open question. Ten studies find that relative to considering alternatives that are similar to the target, considering dissimilar alternatives leads to a greater decrease in purchase intent for the target. When consumers consider a dissimilar alternative, a competing nonfocal goal is activated, which decreases the perceived importance of the focal goal served by the target option. Consistent with this proposed mechanism, the relative importance of the focal goal versus the nonfocal goal mediates the effect of alternative type on purchase intent, and the effect attenuates when the focal goal is shielded from activation of competing goals. We conclude with a discussion of the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.
Friedman, Elizabeth, Jennifer Savary, and Ravi Dhar. "Apples, Oranges, and Erasers: The Effect of Considering Similar versus Dissimilar Alternatives on Purchase Decisions." Journal of Consumer Research 45, no. 4 (December 2018): 725-742.
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