The Effect of Variety on Consumer Preferences: The Role of Need for Cognition and Recommended Alternatives

Article excerpt

The study is based on the two conflicting perspectives of the existing literature: whether large variety will weaken or strengthen consumer preferences. This research identifies need for cognition (NFC) as a key factor moderating the effect of variety on consumer preferences and examines the role that recommended alternatives play. Implications are discussed based on the research results.

Keywords: variety, consumer, preference, recommendation, need for cognition.

Consumer research often discusses the impact of variety in choice set on consumer preferences. Extant studies have put forward two different perspectives. One perspective is that the choice set with larger variety will enhance consumer preferences. For example, there will be more chances to match the individual's preferences (Lancaster, 1990), a proposition consistent with the view that larger variety might influence preferences by creating a perception of freedom of choice (Brehm, 1972) and there will be less chance that the potential alternative will not be in the choice set (Greenleaf & Lehmann, 1995; Kami & Schwartz, 1977). However, the conflicting perspective is presented that more variety will have a negative effect on consumer choice, and will weaken consumer preferences. For example, to evaluate the attractiveness of a large variety of alternatives requires more effort, and increases the needs of individual's cognitive resources (Huffman & Kahn, 1998; Scammon, 1977; Shugan, 1980). The two different perspectives imply that the impact of variety on consumer preferences is decided by whether information overload happens. Before information overload happens, the greater the variety, the better. However, after information overload occurs, increasing the amount of variety will confuse consumers and weaken the preferences.

From the perspective of resource matching (Anand & Sternthal, 1989), the level of variety that will cause information overload varies for different people. People with a high need for cognition (NFC) have more available cognitive resources, and are more likely to use systematic rules to process information when facing a large variety than when dealing with a small variety. People with a low NFC have fewer cognitive resources, and most probably use systematic rules to process information when facing a small variety rather than a large variety. An individual using a systematic information process carefully conducts a tradeoff among attributes, and is expected to have confidence in the chosen option. This may cause NFC to become the important factor that moderates the impact of variety on consumer preferences.

If the impact of variety on consumer preference varies with different people, then obviously the strategy that marketers adopt to achieve maximum consumer preferences will be an important research topic. The present study proposed that a large variety with partial alternatives recommended would better enhance consumer preferences than simply a large or small variety. This is because if a large variety has a positive effect on consumer preferences but cannot avoid the negative effect of information overload, then a large variety with partial alternatives recommended is expected to have the advantages of a large variety, and yet is expected to avoid disadvantages caused by a large variety through limited recommendation. The impact on consumer preferences is also expected to be positive. In addition, relevant research has also lacked discussion on the impact of recommended variety. If recommendations facilitate the promotion of consumer preferences, then how do we decide the number of recommending alternatives?

The research questions of the current study are as follows:

1. Under the condition without recommended alternatives, will NFC moderate the impact of variety on consumer preferences?

2. Will consumer preferences be more positively affected by a large variety with partial alternatives recommended than by simply a large or small variety? …