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Online product displays can shape your buying behavior

Christian Fernsby |
One of the biggest marketing trends in the online shopping industry is personalization through curated product recommendations; however, it can change whether people buy a product they had been considering, according to new University of California San Diego research.

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The study by Uma R. Karmarkar, assistant professor at the UC San Diego Rady School of Management and School of Global Policy and Strategy, finds that display items that come from the same category as the target product, such as a board game matched with other board games, enhance the chances of a target product's purchase.

In contrast, consumers are less likely to buy the target product if it is mismatched with products from different categories, for example, a board game displayed with kitchen knives.

The study utilized eye-tracking—a sensor technology that makes it possible to know where a person is looking—to examine how different types of displays influenced visual attention. Participants in the study looked at their target product for the same amount of time when it was paired with similar items or with items from different categories; however, shoppers spent more time looking at the mismatched products, even though they were only supposed to be there "for display."

"What is surprising is that when I asked people how much they liked the target products, their preferences didn't change between display settings," Karmarkar said.

"The findings show that it is not about how much you like or dislike the item you're looking at, it's about your process for buying the item. The surrounding display items don't seem to change how much attention you give the target product, but they can influence your decision whether to buy it or not."

Karmarkar, who holds Ph.D.s in consumer behavior and neuroscience, says the findings suggests that seeing similar options on the page reinforces the idea to consumers that they're making the right kind of decision to purchase an item that fits the category on display.

"When the information is mismatched, it changes the scope of the decision," she said. "A mismatched display is comparable to shopping in a store with more variety. You may consider a featured board game but if you can see other products to buy, this board game may not be the first kind of purchase you want to make. The mismatched items draw additional attention and compete with the category you were considering."

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