The Game of "Choices" : What Influences the Buying Decision
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The Game of "Choices" : What Influences the Buying Decision

By Rahul Guhathakurta

B&E | The Game of "Choices" : What Influences the Buying Decision

Image Attribute: Flickr Creative Commons: Caden Crawford

Let us consider a consumer buying a laptop at an electronics retail store. She inspects the models of some good brands at the store. She compares the tech specifications; operating system, processing speed, hard drive, RAM, memory cache, accessories, CD-DVD drive, in-built stereo options, the number of USB ports, the price, and some additional features. She evaluates all the models based on her product and price preferences and selects one particular model for purchase.   

Now consider the same consumer in a lifestyle clothing store, buying a tunic for herself to be worn at a friend's marriage reception party in a couple of days. As the "Sales Connoisseur" shows her tunics of various colors, quality, and price range; a bright pink tunic with a perfect cut catches her attention. She tells the connoisseur to keep it aside and asks him to show her many more beautiful tunics, and she selects a green tunic and an orange one too which she liked. She looks at all of them together. Green? Too much Poison Ivy type. Orange? Too bright. Pink? Perfect! She imagines herself in the punk tunic and smiles thinking of all the compliments she will get at the reception. Without much hesitation, she makes the decision.   

In the above, example, the consumer adopts two different kinds of choice processes. The laptop purchase demonstrates the typical attribute-based choice, which involved a lot of mental processing and comparison. The selection of tunic for the marriage reception, on the other hand, is an example of an affective choice. The tunic was chosen not on the basis of some objective evaluation criteria, but for the simple reason that "it feels right" as the following example illustrates.   

Jenny is getting married and for the selection of the banquet hall, she seeks help from her prospective beau. They see a couple of banquet halls, but somehow there was something missing. Then they went to Bloomington Farms and at the entrance, only Jenny knew that - "this is it". The glittering marble flooring, the crystal-studded glass doors, the magnificent garden with an eye-soothing landscape, and the atmosphere - she felt that it was right, unlike the other banquets they had seen. It was perfect.  

The affective choice is based, not on some product attributes, but on some immediate liking or emotional association with the product or brand. Habituation or long association with certain products or brands can also initiate immediate affective choice. Self-image (an individual's perception of him/herself, this image she/he will try to relate with the brand image) is another major factor that leads to affective choice, say popular brands like Apple in the case of the millennials.   

Marketers associate effective choices, primarily with products that let consumers experience fun, pleasure, and excitement, say, designer clothes, luxury cars, exotic vacations, etc. Research has indicated that consumers anticipate the satisfaction they will get from using/consuming the product while making a choice. Marketers of products, like vacations and homes, can encourage potential consumers to anticipate their satisfaction while consuming the product. 

The Difference between Attribute-based and Attitude-based Choice   

Attribute-based choice requires "the knowledge and use of specific attributes at the same time the judgment is rendered and involves the use of attribute-by-attribute comparison across brands" [1]. An attitude-based choice, on the other hand, involves "the use of general attitudes, summary impressions, institutions, or heuristics (decision rules)" [1]  

The following two scenarios will explain the difference between these two choice processes:  

Scenario 1:  

Mark has to buy a smartphone as he has lost the old one. On the way, he thinks of the options - his last cell phone was Samsung. But he was somehow not very satisfied with it. His mother has a Nokia which looks OK and works nicely.  He extends his information tagging network to his friend Jerry. Jerry has a new Motorola Moto G Turbo with excellent battery backup and Ingress Protection (IP) 67 rating. He makes a mental note of what he must check in the smartphone before finally choosing one. He goes to the store and inspects various brands and simultaneously checks a few online reviews & prices of the same products that he is looking at physically in the store. He compares his set parameters and finally makes a buying decision. 

Scenario 2:

Lisa has to buy a smartphone as she needs an upgrade. On the way she thinks of the options - her last cell phone was Nokia. But she wants a new phone.  Her sister has an Apple 6S phone which looks good and works nicely. Some of her friends have Samsung S7 which looks good. At the store, she notices that both Apple and Samsung have the same price. She decides to buy an Apple phone.   

The above two scenarios illustrate the difference between the attribute-based choice (scenario 1) and attitude-based choice (scenario 2). It is clear from the above examples that in attribute-based choice, the amount of time and energy spent is more as compared to attitude-based choice.


Any buying evaluation criteria are usually the product attributes which one generally considers while making a purchase. Affective choice, as discussed in this article, uses evaluated criteria like style, looks, functionality, taste, brand image, etc.   

Consumers might be able to compare the attributes of brands while making a choice, but on certain attributes like quality, they use their own judgment which might be based on factors like price, country of origin, warranty, post-sales services, etc. Thus, for marketers, both evaluative criteria and individual judgment hold the key to influence the buying decision and consecutively, defining the success of a brand.

About the Author:

Rahul Guhathakurta, Founder at IndraStra Global. He tweets at @rahulogy


[1] Mantel, Susan Powell & Kardes, Frank R. "The Role of Direction of Comparison, Attribute-based Processing, and Attitude-based processing" Journal of Consumer Research. Vol. 25, Issue 4, Mar 99, p335-53