Rejectable Choice Sets: How Seemingly Irrelevant No-Choice Options Affect Consumer Decision Processes

Jeffrey R. Parker and Rom Y. Schrift
Journal of Marketing Research (JMR)
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Executive Summary
Consumers are faced with numerous decisions every day. In some situations, they are forced to choose from the alternatives available. In other situations, the possibility of choosing none of the available alternatives (i.e., take the “no-choice”) is a more viable option. To date, most of the literature on no-choice options has focused on (1) the numerous factors that lead consumers to choose no-choice options and (2) which alternatives are more likely to lose choice shares to the no-choice option. In this research, the authors focus on the flip side of the coin: the decision processes and choices of consumers who do not opt for the no-choice option (i.e., those that ultimately select one of the available alternatives). Could it be that the mere opportunity to reject all of the available alternatives changes consumers’ decision processes and choices? If so, why and in what way?

The presence or absence of a no-choice option in the choice set should not rationally affect the preferences of those who do not choose the no-choice option. However, in this researcher, the authors demonstrate that the mere addition of a no-choice option to the set changes consumers’ judgment criteria. In particular, it shifts the consumer’s focus away from comparing the alternatives with each other to determine which is best (a comparative judgment) to evaluating the alternatives one by one so as to determine which, if any, meets the consumer’s needs (an evaluative judgment). The authors find that this change in judgment criteria systematically affects consumers’ preference structures and ultimate choices.

They divide the empirical findings into two main sections. In the first section, they demonstrate the shift in judgment criteria by showing that the mere addition of a seemingly irrelevant no-choice option (1) results in consumers processing, storing, and recalling information in a more alternative- (vs. attribute-) based manner and (2) makes concepts associated with an evaluative judgment more accessible in consumers’ minds. In the second section, the authors demonstrate how this shift in judgment criteria influences consumers’ preferences and ultimate choices. Specifically, they show that adding a no-choice option to the set increases the weight consumers attach to enriched attributes (e.g., brand name) as opposed to comparable attributes (e.g., price). Next, they demonstrate that the relative distance between the choice set and consumers’ minimum needs (thresholds) becomes relevant and influences preferences when a no-choice option is included in the choice set.

Taken together, the results also raise an important methodological and practical question: Specifically, will the inclusion or exclusion of a no-choice option in choice experiments affect the results of those studies and, consequently, the inferences that managers make on the basis of those results? To investigate this question, they collaborate with a food company in conducting a choice-based conjoint analysis and find that the mere absence or presence of a no-choice option significantly affects the results of the analysis in a direction consistent with their predictions. They conclude by discussing the theoretical, methodological, and managerial implications of these findings.

Jeffrey R. Parker is currently a doctoral candidate at Columbia University and will be joining the faculty at Georgia State University in Fall 2011. He received his BS in business administration with a focus in marketing from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 2002 and his Masters of Philosophy from Columbia University in 2008. In addition to serving four years in the United States Air Force, he worked in the restaurant industry for eight years before beginning his PhD. His current research interests lie in the area of choice psychology and decision-making processes, with a particular focus on the impact of choice context and choice-set construction on consumer preferences.

Rom Y. Schrift is Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. He conducted his PhD studies in business and his Masters of Philosophy at Columbia University, received his MBA from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and completed his BSc in Mechanical Engineering at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. Professor Schrift’s research interests include behavioral decision theory and consumer behavior. He is primarily interested in exploring the processes that consumers undergo before reaching a decision and their impact on consumer choice. Professor Schrift has recently won two best paper awards from the Society for Consumer Psychology for his work in this field.

Journal of Marketing Research, Volume 48, Number 5, October 2011
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Author Bio:

Jeffrey R. Parker and Rom Y. Schrift
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