The role of esoteric specifications in choice contexts
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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. Access is restricted indefinitely. ----- It is critical for firms to understand how demand for their products is impacted by the way in which product information is communicated. Despite research devoted to understanding how the provision of information impacts product evaluation and choice, research on the communication of product specifications is limited. Firms often use esoteric specifications to describe attributes. In contrast to conventional specifications that are familiar and relatively easy to evaluate, esoteric specifications are defined as descriptions of product attributes that are unfamiliar, novel, and difficult to evaluate even when comparable alternatives are available to act as reference points. For example, the ‘zoom’ attribute of a digital camera may be described in a simple, easy-to-evaluate specification (e.g. 7x), or equivalently described in an esoteric, difficult-to-evaluate way (e.g. 37-260mm). Although the use of esoteric specifications is widespread, little is known about how esoteric specifications impact upon choice. Previous research suggests conflicting impacts of the use of esoteric specifications in influencing product evaluations. For instance, ambiguous attributes have been demonstrated to positively influence product evaluations, but, paradoxically, consumers often ignore product information that is difficult to evaluate, instead utilising specifications that can be easily compared across alternatives. Given these conflicting views, the objective of this thesis is to understand how esoteric specifications impact reliance on both esoterically and conventionally described attributes in choice contexts. Two discrete choice experiments examine the effects of esoteric specifications in choice in the context of digital camera and credit card choice. We demonstrate that attribute reliance in choice is lower when described by esoteric specifications than when described by conventional specifications and, as a result, reliance shifts to those other attributes conventionally described. We propose that the shift in reliance to other conventionally specified attributes depends on brand credibility. Finally, we demonstrate the moderating role of processing effort in attenuating the discounting of esoterically described attributes in choice. This thesis contributes to research on the provision of marketing information in three key ways. First, we identify esoteric specifications as an information-provision variable that has a systematic influence on evaluation and choice. Second, we provide an addition to the metacognition and ease-of-processing literature by examining the effects of processing difficulty in a choice context. Finally, this thesis contributes to the information-processing literature by demonstrating the influence of motivated processing in overcoming effects of esoteric specifications in choice. Practically, the findings suggest that firms should be mindful of the language used to describe key attributes and, in particular, whether consumers can comprehend and compare the values of stated specifications. Failure of firms to do so may lead to consumers using attribute information in choice contexts in unanticipated ways.
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