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  • Writer's pictureRoisy Rickel

Consumer Decision Making & Hyperchoice In Design

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

Designers are tasked with the responsibility of making a tremendous amount of decisions that culminate into one finished composition, that transform a house into a home in which people feel represented and comfortable. Many clients want to be involved in every step of the process, from which shade of paint color, to the tassels on the curtains. But is allowing your clients to be a part of all of these decisions taking away or adding to the value you bring as a designer?

We are arguing that it actually takes away, and here is a little bit of consumer behavior theory on decision making to explain why we have come to that opinion.

What is a decision? Decision making is the selection of a course of action from several alternative courses of action. Decisions are categorized in three groups: cognitive, habitual and affective decisions.

Cognitive decisions are deliberate, rational and sequential. The more there is at stake with a purchase, the more likely a consumer is to take a cognitive approach in making decisions, so in home design, when big money and sense of self is on the line people usually start here.

Cognitive decision making has 5 steps.

  1. Need Recognition

  2. Information Search

  3. Evaluation of the Alternatives

  4. Purchase

  5. Post Purchase Evaluations

Starting with need recognition. Your client realizes they are moving into a new home in a matter of months, and they need to furnish their home. They realize their current state of having no furniture for their new home is not their ideal state.

The next step is information search. They might start looking for individual items, maybe even buy half of the furniture this way for before realizing they need help making better decisions. This process is exhausting.

In the third phase a customer evaluates all of their alternatives in their evoked set. Here is where designers value starts to come in.

(The evoked set is all of the brands and options that the consumer knows after their research, and their consideration set is all of those options that they would actually consider.)

Imagine I am that client. I know I could buy a couch from big box stores like RH, William Sonoma, Crate and Barrel; an online retailer; or a dozen other retail furniture stores. As a designer, you have a much larger and higher quality evoked set than the client does, so chances are the end decision you make will already be better.

Consumers narrow their options down by focusing on one or two product features. Again, imagine I am the consumer. I don’t know anything about the style of my home, the way furniture is made, or how to make space flow efficiently. My criteria might just be

1. Do I like the way it looks with no reference to other pieces, and

2. Is it comfortable in comparison to my current furniture.

This process is overwhelming since I have no real criteria on with to base my decision. I start to experience

hyperchoice: excessive repeated decisions that may drain psychological energy while decreasing our abilities to make smart decisions.

I might use some mental shortcuts that allow a consumer to pay attention to fewer attributes and avoid difficult retrieval of information by judging on easily accessible information, known in psychology as heuristics. Heuristics are used to reduce the discomfort of that decision fatigue.

A common heuristic is thinking that more expensive products are better quality (covariation heuristic). Another is that because the product is made in France it must be better quality (country of origin heuristic). Another is that a familiar brand is better than a less known one (familiar brand names heuristic). Since I don’t have detailed evaluative information to compare these choices I depend on these heuristics to judge quality and design value.

As a designer, not only is your evoked set much wider, your evaluative criteria is much more detailed. Your decision isn’t magically better than mine. You don’t have to depend on heuristics as an indicator of quality because you know what makes one piece higher quality than another, and a set of design qualities better than others. Part of the value that you deliver is these superior evaluative criteria, and reducing the discomfort of hyper-choice for your consumers by solving the puzzle of a home holistically.

Finally in the fourth and fifth steps consumers come to a final decision and develop their post product evaluations. This step is by far the most important part for marketers, and designers alike to understand.

No matter what decision a consumer makes, if it is made under the influence of hyper-choice the consumer will be less satisfied with the end result than if they were not influenced by either phenomenon.

Without the impact of hyper-choice, consumers can develop opinions based on what it is actually like to live in the space that you have helped them create, and can see for themselves what it is like to have a space specifically designed for their needs in ways they would not have accounted for, and they truly feel the value of the money they spent. When they make each prior decision for themselves, the ability to experience that satisfaction is robbed from them.

Every marketers favorite statistic is that 80% of all sales come from returning customers, so this step is what creates thriving businesses longterm. Once a consumer can live in a well designed home and fully experience the value they have received, they are more likely to recommend you to a friend, or hire you again.

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