Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research

The Paradoxical Nature of Electronic Decision Aids on Comparison-Shopping: The Experiments and Analysis

Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research

The Paradoxical Nature of Electronic Decision Aids on Comparison-Shopping: The Experiments and Analysis

Article excerpt


Consumers who use electronic decision aids such as comparison-shopping agents may be overwhelmed by the amount of choice information available to them, leading to an inability to choose or dissatisfaction with the ultimate choice, a state of "choice overload." Two experiments were designed to test the choice overload hypothesis. Eight choice tasks of different sizes were presented to subjects. By observing the decision quality, decision time, and decision confidence, we confirmed our hypothesis that choice overload exists when the comparison matrix exceeds a certain size (24 choices and 10 attributes for each choice in this research). Subjects were then given different combinations of decision-making tools (sorting and short-listing) and conditions (refreshing of information) to deal with the same choice task within the choice overload range obtained from the initial experiment. The use of both decision-making tools unexpectedly required more decision-making effort and resulted in less decision satisfaction than when only one decision-making tool was provided. We believe these findings are relevant to the future development of electronic decision aids. Further research is needed in this direction to extend our understanding of decision-making in electronic decision aids mediated environment.

Key words: Electronic Decision Aids, Choice Overload, Comparison-Shopping, Decision Support systems, Consumer Behavior

1 Introduction

In the past five years, with the advent and popularity of Internet shopping, consumers have been increasingly faced with a variety of choices from online vendors. While traditional retail stores such as Wal-Mart may stock 100,000 items per location, a Web retailer such as may offer as many as 18 million items available to the consumer to select from. Meanwhile, the increasing availability and affordability of ecommerce technologies has encouraged more vendors' online presence. As a result, consumers are experiencing an unprecedented variety of choices offered by numerous vendors from the Web. So naturally, consumers are gradually coming to depend on the newly emerged electronic decision aids such as comparison-shopping agents for assistance, as explained by Clark [5] - [6].

Generally speaking, comparison-shopping agents, like other emerging electronic decision aids, are supposed to assist the consumer in choosing a product in a timely manner when there are many types, brands, and variations available in an online retail transaction. These agents are software applications that can interact with consumers and provide information aggregation and processing services upon request [7], [33]. They are expected to reduce the search cost of consumers and mitigate choice overload incurred by the increasing number of vendors as well as the products by narrowing the search for a product from multiple vendors, by assisting shoppers in comparing attributes, and by finding the best price or nearest point of distribution [14]. According to most recent survey by Nielsen, in January 2009, comparison-shopping engine ranked in the top 10 in all search engine traffic, including those general search engines like Google.

However, to maximize their profit and to accommodate the general public's insatiable demand for more choice information, comparison-shopping service providers usually encourage as many online vendors to join their comparison-shopping platform as possible. They also encourage online vendors to list as much product and product attribute information as possible. As a result, using these agents may increase the burden on the consumer who is given an overwhelming array of options, diminishing his or her ability to use the decision-making tools provided by the agent to process them, and subsequently undermining the intended benefit these agents are assumed to provide. This has a negative impact on both comparison-shopping service providers and online shoppers. …

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