People know to consider what they already have when considering an upgrade, such as a newer smartphone, but tend not to do it, research shows.
“Our research shows that when people are confronted with an upgrade and they don’t stop to think about what they already have, they tend to look at the upgrade, evaluate all of its shiny new features, and lose sight of the fact that they already have some of those features in the products they currently own,” says Robyn LeBoeuf, associate professor of marketing at Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin Business School.
LeBoeuf, along with coauthor Aner Sela, associate professor of marketing at the University of Florida, conducted a series of five experiments involving real and hypothetical upgrade decisions for products most of us are very familiar with: smartphones and apps.
The researchers found that even when the status quo (in this case, the pre-existing phone or app) is mentioned in the decision, if consumers aren’t explicitly reminded to think about what they already have, they don’t compare it to the upgrade, increasing the chances of an upgrade purchase. It’s a concept called called comparison neglect.
“We asked some people to evaluate the upgrade and consider how likely they are to upgrade,” LeBoeuf says. “And we see those people are pretty likely to upgrade.
“We asked other people, before they make that decision, simply to stop and reflect on the status quo. This extra step reminded them about what they already had.
“And we found that those people—who are prompted to stop and think about what they already have—show a decreased likelihood of upgrading,” LeBoeuf says. “So just simply prompting people to stop and think about what they have seems to lower their upgrade likelihood, suggesting they weren’t comparing the status quo to the upgrade to begin with.”
The findings have implications for both sides of the marketplace. While optimizing comparison neglect may seem like a winning proposition for retailers, ethically it may be troubling to craft communications that draw a consumer’s attention away from their status quo options. For consumers, LeBoeuf says it’s important to remember while some upgrades are worth it, perhaps some others can wait.
“Compare and make an informed decision,” LeBoeuf says. “And remind yourself of what you already have.”
The Journal of Marketing Research has accepted the work for publication.