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Do-it-alls vs. specialists -- Which products sell better?

14.02.2007
Does whitening toothpaste whiten teeth better than toothpaste that whitens and prevents cavities? Does a printer/fax/copy machine make lower-quality printouts than a standalone printer?

In the March issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, a fascinating new study by Alexander Chernev (Northwestern University) reveals that people perceive products that emphasize a single feature to be more effective than products with multiple features.

"The current research breaks new ground by showing that a product that specializes on a single attribute is perceived to be superior on that attribute relative to an all-in-one option—even when the description of the specialized and the all-in-one options on the focal attribute is exactly the same," Chernev explains.

Chernev points to the "zero-sum heuristic" in consumer attitudes to explain this phenomenon. In other words, consumers believe that options are balanced against one another, such that advantages in one aspect (cavity defense) are likely to be compensated by disadvantages in another area (less whitening capability).

Interestingly, though, when the multi-function product was priced higher than the single-function product, it was no longer perceived to be inferior to the single function product. As Chernev writes: "The findings reported in this research also imply that the widely use strategy of pricing specialized and all-in-one options at parity might, in fact, be sub-optimal."

Suzanne Wu | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uchicago.edu

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