Unveiling the Mechanisms Behind Online Shopping Choices: Could the Mouse Be the Key?

The unpredictability of consumers in their online product choices is a central theme in Cornell University’s latest research in consumer psychology. This research, titled “How Consumers Resolve Conflict over Branded Products: Evidence from Mouse Cursor Trajectories,” and published in the Journal of Marketing Research, employed an innovative method of tracking mouse cursor movements to uncover the intricate interplay of cognitive processes that shape consumers’ decisions regarding brands and products.

Geoffrey Fisher, an associate professor at the Charles H. Dyson Applied School of Economics and Management, and Kaitlin Woolley, an associate professor at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, conducted a series of cursor-tracking studies for this paper. In one such study, 46 students engaged in tasks involving 25 food brands (e.g., Chipotle, Shake Shack, Starbucks) and 39 clothing brands (e.g., J.Crew, Nike, Patagonia). In each task, participants were presented with 200 choices between two items from different brands.

Fisher, who specializes in marketing and neuroeconomics, explained, “By capturing the trajectory of a cursor’s movement, we were able to estimate brand consideration time—the point at which consumers begin evaluating a brand’s desirability—and product consideration time—the moment at which consumers start assessing a product’s desirability. We discovered variations in these consideration times, and these differences influenced consumers’ decisions when selecting branded products.”

The findings indicated that, while consumers typically analyze product attributes later than brand attributes, the timing of this evaluation significantly impacts their choices. When consumers weigh the desirability of brands against products, an early consideration of brand attributes increases the likelihood of selecting the option from the preferred brand.

Woolley, who investigates the psychological aspects of consumer motivation, stated, “This research uncovers the intricate dynamics of consumer decision-making, including the sequence and timing of brand and product evaluations within a multitude of choices. By shedding light on these nuanced processes, this study lays the foundation for a deeper comprehension of how consumers navigate the intricate landscape of brand preferences.”

In one of the studies, the results extended to decisions involving three attributes—brand, product, and price. The research revealed that consumers prioritize assessing product desirability before considering price, while price and brand desirability evaluations occur at a similar time.

Another study highlighted the influence of advertisements on brand consideration. When advertisements effectively prioritize brand information over product details, consumers are more inclined to resolve their choice conflicts by selecting options from their preferred brand, even if it means choosing a less preferred product.

Fisher added, “Our findings suggest that any intervention that increases the relative time spent on brand evaluation can encourage consumers to make choices based on brands. This can be achieved by enhancing the visibility of brand attributes on product packaging and in advertising. The collection of cursor-tracking data is accessible, cost-effective, and scalable. Companies can integrate the tools introduced here to enhance their ability to segment customers by identifying those who are likely to initially focus on brand-related features.”

Source: Cornell University

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