The Attribute Carryover Effect: What the “Runner-Up” Option Tells Us about Consumer Choice Processes
The process used to differentiate a top choice from a runner-up can result in a preference reversal among nonselected alternatives, which we term the attribute carryover effect. A series of three experiments demonstrate that a phased choice process can shift attribute preferences. If the top choice is unavailable, consumers with weak attribute preferences are likely to reject their explicitly identified second choice (the runner-up option). Instead, these consumers choose an option that may not meet the initial screening criteria but that does share a desirable, “differentiating” feature with the unavailable top choice. Judgment data indicate that this preference reversal is due to increased salience of the differentiating attribute during the last phase of the original choice, which “carries over” into the subsequent choice. These findings augment our understanding of consumer choice processes and heighten our ability to predict choice outcomes under situations in which a chosen option is unattainable.
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