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Every day consumers make purchase decisions by choosing among large sets of related products available for sale in the aisles of stores. What factors might systematically affect how consumers make decisions among an array of products? Our research explores one aspect of that question.
As most marketers realize, not all shoppers are created equal. Within the same store, one may be searching for a specific product to meet an immediate need, while others may simply be browsing. Just as they can have different goals when they enter a store, individual consumers may approach purchase decisions with different mindsets that can affect how they shop. In social psychology, a mindset is defined as a set of cognitive processes and judgmental criteria that, once activated, can carry over to unrelated tasks and decisions. In other words, if you get a consumer thinking a certain way, that way of thinking — that mindset — can influence his or her subsequent shopping behavior.
In particular, social psychologists have identified two distinct mindsets that are relevant to how consumers make decisions when choosing among large sets of related products: abstract and concrete. An abstract mindset encourages people to think in a more broad and general way. Consumers in an abstract mindset who face an array of related products will focus more on the shared product attributes associated with an overarching purpose — for example, the general category of hair care or car maintenance. Conversely, a concrete mindset draws attention to lower-level details and attributes associated with execution or usage; consumers in a concrete mindset will thus focus on factors that differentiate between products.
In our research, we examined how abstract versus concrete mindsets affected consumers’ purchase decisions. (The research results are described in detail in a working paper called “The Role of Abstract and Concrete Mindsets on the Purchase of Products from Adjacent Categories.”) In a series of experiments, we found that mindset matters. When consumers must decide whether or not to make purchases from a variety of related but different product categories — such as toothpaste, mouthwash and dental floss in an array of oral care products — an abstract mindset increases the number of products consumers select.
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