ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2019, Vol. 51 ›› Issue (5): 625-636.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2019.00625

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles    

Quality or price? The effect of stock-out middle option on consumer choices

YAO Qing1,CHEN Rong2()   

  1. 1 Donlinks School of Economics and Management, University of Science and Technology Beijing, Beijing 100083, China
    2 School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China
  • Received:2017-11-21 Published:2019-05-25 Online:2019-03-20
  • Contact: Rong CHEN
  • Supported by:


Consumers in real world sometimes face situations in which information about unavailable products is still present in the decision contexts. For example, consumers may find that certain options are sold out and thus marked by an out-of-stock stamp in such a way that consumers can still examine their attributes information. Traditional models of consumer choices have assumed that the addition of an unavailable alternative to a choice set has no impact on the shares among the original alternatives. However, recent studies on asymmetrical dominance choice sets suggest that adding an alternative that asymmetrically dominates a targeted alternative and is declared to be unavailable increases preference for the target in the original choice set. Three categories of theories, range-weighting, similarity-substitution and relative-advantage, have been used to explain the phenomenon.
Despite prior research interest in extending attraction effect in unavailability context, little is understood about how unavailable options influence preferences among available options in other choice settings. Dominant literature have advocate for the preference for the compromised option in a three-option set. Thus, it is typical that the unavailable option is the compromised one. The above three explanations all fail to predict the preference on the remaining options in this situation.
We propose that consumers are experiencing increasing decision difficulty or feeling greater conflict deciding in the unavailable compromise set than in the two-option set, and thus are likely to alleviate this negative task-related emotion by engaging in conflict-reducing heuristics. In particular, if choice of the compromise option that is associated with smallest maximum error or likelihood of being criticized is impossible, consumers forced to make difficult trade-offs among extremes are likely to rely more on the unambiguous attribute in the evaluations, because unambiguous outcome is associated with a lower likelihood of criticism. Thus, consumers seek to guarantee (avoid) advantages (disadvantages) of their selected option in precision rather than in ambiguity. Based on findings that attributes in quantitative nature (e.g., price) are easier to trade-off than attributes (e.g., quality) in qualitative nature, we predict that the relative preferences for low-quality, low-price option which has a precise and certain advantage will be stronger in presence than in absence of an unavailable intermediate option.
Study 1 establishes that the addition of an unavailable compromise option into a two-option local set can increase the relative share of the cheaper option. In Study 2, we demonstrate that the degree to which the quality advantage (disadvantage) can be ambiguously evaluated moderates this effect. When the value of quality becomes less ambiguous to evaluate (providing experts’ quality evaluations, Study 2A) or more ambiguous to evaluate (describing product quality by a range of performance, Study 2B), the effect that the cheaper option fares better in the unavailable middle option set attenuates or strengthens. Study 3 further examines the underlying mechanism by testing the moderating effect of consumer product knowledge, and the mediating effect of decision conflict. We conclude with a discussion of the theoretical and managerial implications.

Key words: compromise option, unavailable, decision conflict, consumer preference

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