Knowledge@Wharton has profiled a new paper, "Complicating Choice," by Wharton marketing professor Rom Schrift and co-authors Oded Netzer and Ran Kivetz of Columbia University. They find that consumers tend to feel that a certain amount of effort should be associated with making a buying decision. The notion comes from people's belief that hard work pays off, and that a lack of appropriate effort will lead to a bad outcome. If a decision appears "too easy" to us, we sometimes come to the conclusion that the seemingly obvious choice is "too good to be true." As a result, we over-complicate the decision. We make it more complex in order to make ourselves feel as though we have exerted appropriate effort. Of course, such over-complication may lead us to choose a less desirable option or to waste time and energy. We may end up moving far too late and missing a golden opportunity.
The scholars discovered three ways in which consumers over-complicate easy decisions. First, they "make the unimportant important." In other words, they end up deliberating about an attribute that they didn't even care about at the initial stages of the decision process. Second, they make two alternatives appear more equal than they actually were. Third, people actually alter their preferences about specific attributes of one of the the options in order to make their decision harder.