Learning from Experience, Simply
HKUST Business School
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management
John R. Hauser
MIT Sloan School of Management
May 29, 2014
Marketing Science, Forthcoming
There is substantial academic interest in modeling consumer experiential learning. However, (approximately) optimal solutions to forward-looking experiential learning problems are complex, limiting their behavioral plausibility and empirical feasibility. We propose that consumers use cognitively simple heuristic strategies. We explore one viable heuristic - index strategies, and demonstrate that they are intuitive, tractable, and plausible. Index strategies are much simpler for consumers to use but provide close-to-optimal utility. They also avoid exponential growth in computational complexity, enabling researchers to study learning models in more-complex situations.
Well-defined index strategies depend upon a structural property called indexability. We prove the indexability of a canonical forward-looking experiential learning model in which consumers learn brand quality while facing random utility shocks. Following an index strategy, consumers develop an index for each brand separately and choose the brand with the highest index. Using synthetic data, we demonstrate that an index strategy achieves nearly optimal utility at substantially lower computational costs. Using IRI data for diapers, we find that an index strategy performs as well as an approximately optimal solution and better than myopic learning. We extend the analysis to incorporate risk aversion, other cognitively simple heuristics, heterogeneous foresight, and an alternative specification of brands.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 87
Keywords: dynamic consumer learning, structural models, cognitive simplicity, index strategies, heuristics, multi-armed bandit problems, restless bandits, indexability
Date posted: May 24, 2012 ; Last revised: January 8, 2015