Multi-Stage Decision Processes: The Impact of Attribute-Order on How Consumers Mentally Represent Their Choice

50 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2018

See all articles by Rom Y. Schrift

Rom Y. Schrift

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School

Jeffrey Parker

University of Illinois at Chicago - College of Business Administration

Gal Zauberman

Yale

Shalena Srna

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Marketing

Date Written: October 25, 2018

Abstract

With the ever-increasing number of options from which consumers can choose, many decisions are done in stages. Whether using decision tools to sort, screen, and eliminate options, or intuitively trying to reduce the complexity of a choice, consumers often reach a decision by making sequential, attribute-level choices. The current paper explores how the order in which attribute-level choices are made in such multi-stage decisions affects how consumers mentally represent and categorize their chosen option. The authors find that attribute choices made in the initial stage play a dominant role in how the ultimately chosen option is mentally represented, while later attribute choices serve only to update and refine the representation of that option. Across thirteen studies (six of which are reported in the supplemental online materials), the authors find that merely changing the order of attribute choices in multi-stage decision processes alters how consumers (i) describe the chosen option, (ii) perceive its similarity to other available options, (iii) categorize it, (iv) intend to use it, and (v) replace it (if necessary). Thus, while the extant decision-making literature has mainly explored how mental representations and categorization impact choice, the current paper demonstrates the reverse: the choice process itself can impact mental representations.

Keywords: Multi-stage Decisions, Mental Representations, Categorization, Decision Trees, Phased Decisions, Replacement Choices

Suggested Citation

Schrift, Rom Y. and Parker, Jeffrey and Zauberman, Gal and Srna, Shalena, Multi-Stage Decision Processes: The Impact of Attribute-Order on How Consumers Mentally Represent Their Choice (October 25, 2018). Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 44, No. 6, 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3272852 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3272852

Rom Y. Schrift (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

700 Jon M. Huntsman Hall
3730 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6340
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Jeffrey Parker

University of Illinois at Chicago - College of Business Administration ( email )

601 South Morgan Street
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Chicago, IL 60607
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Gal Zauberman

Yale ( email )

165 Whitney Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

Shalena Srna

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Marketing ( email )

701 Tappan Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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