Monday, July 18, 2011

Do Customers Prefer Products with Small Flaws?

The Ideas section of the Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition reported on an interesting new consumer behavior study.    The scholars (Danit Ein-Gar, Baba Shiv, and Zakary L. Tormala) examined how people reacted to small flaws in a product. 235 undergraduates participated in this study (ok, so right away, we must acknowledge that one could raise validity concerns based on the sample).   The researchers asked the students if they wanted a chocolate bar.  The students could see, through the wrapper, that some chocolate bars were slightly broken, while others were not.   The researchers intentionally approached some students that were preoccupied, while others were not.   The preoccupied students bought more flawed chocolate bars than perfect ones (by a significant margin).  The non-preoccupied students tended to prefer the perfect chocolate bars. What accounts for these findings?  The scholars argued that the flaw caused the preoccupied students to take notice, to pay attention more closely, and thereby to purchase more chocolate bars.

What's the implication for companies?  I certainly don't think it means that we should intentionally produce flawed products.  However, I do wonder if companies that offer early-stage products might benefit by actively engaging customers and asking them to offer feedback on flaws and potential improvements.  Being very direct about possible flaws, and asking for customers to help, may draw their attention to the product in a crowded, noisy marketplace (i.e. one in which consumers are often preoccupied!). Do you see other implications of this research?  If so, I hope you will post a comment and share your thoughts.

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