Responsible recommendations and seeking information

Given my previous discussion of the not particularly compelling correlation between brand/price and quality, and people’s not particularly good ability to judge quality of items they might want to purchase, I’ve been wondering about what various factors and elements might coax people into consuming and what information people actually use to make a decision to purchase something, other than brand name and price (especially online, when information about the item you’re considering purchasing might be more limited because you can’t physically inspect and interact with the item).

Recommendations seem to me like they would have a pretty powerful influence over people’s decisions, particularly online. If I see a nice item recommended on a blog that I like, I find myself contemplating whether I need to buy that item myself, even though I might never have wanted it otherwise. More positively, recommendations are a good way of adding data to your decision about whether to purchase something, particularly if the recommendation comes from someone you feel has similar tastes or values to yourself.

Are online recommendations powerful? Do people pay attention to such recommendations and do the recommendations influence people’s purchasing behaviour? Because if you’re a blog writer or a blog reader, or you read or write online reviews, that would certainly be something to consider. Do writers need to be more circumspect about recommendations? Do readers need to be more cautious about evaluating information about a product based on online recommendations?

In the case of some research that looked into this, consumers can be divided into two groups: those who have a high motivation to process information related to a potential purchase, and those who have a low motivation to process that information. If you have high motivation, you do a lot of research, a lot of information gathering, a lot of shopping around, a lot of careful consideration. If you have low motivation, you try to minimise the effort you put into making the decision about what to purchase, you don’t investigate potential alternatives much, and you look for shortcuts that you hope or assume will lead you to the right choice.

Now these two groups – the one with a high motivation to process information (HM) and the one with the low motivation to process information (LM) – react differently to recommendations that they read about particular products online.

When an HM individual reads a recommendation online, it actually motivates them to do even more researching and evaluating. In fact, the stronger the recommendation, the longer an HM individual spends analysing information about all potential options (and the recommended option itself). That’s a pretty good outcome, really: HM individuals are pretty motivated to gather all the information they need to make a well informed decision about a purchase, and recommendations motivate them even further, and in the end they are more likely to make the optimal decision.

The LM individuals, on the other hand, are looking for shortcuts to minimise the time and effort in making a decision about a potential purchase, so they tend to focus on the recommendation too much. When an LM individual encounters a recommendation, that recommendation seems to redirect the individual’s search efforts: their search efforts end up limited to the recommendation and perhaps little else. And, unsurprisingly, LM individuals end up more likely to make clearly sub-optimal choices in their decision about what item to purchase. And on top of that, apparently all it takes for an LM individual to make a sub-optimal choice is a single online recommendation for that particular item.

I imagine that LM individuals might be able to improve their decision-making by devising some rules regarding the amount of information that they should try to obtain before finalising their decision. If you think you might be a bit LM in your decision-making style, try to come up with some points for a checklist to use in guiding your information gathering. If reviews of a product are widely available, have you sought out at least, say, 5 different reviews? If reviews of a product are scarce, what evidence is there that the one review you’ve seen is from a reputable source, or from someone who would have similar standards or needs to yourself? Have you looked for at least one or two alternatives to the product you’re considering, and again sought out multiple reviews of those items? Willfully applying a more strategic and structured approach to your information gathering might feel like a bit of drudgery, but it might yield better results for you in the long run!

6 Thoughts on “Responsible recommendations and seeking information

  1. hear, hear! i always try to use my blog as a resource in this regard. and all my reviews and posts really only feature items that i’ve had for some time and really work out well. unless, of course, it’s an egregiously bad experience (ie: that Billykirk bag fiasco), i just won’t post about things that are subpar or so-so…

    • Jess on June 2, 2012 at 5:44 pm said:

      I think it can be good to post about things being slightly disappointing or just subpar as well, though, since if people are going to make a choice about something based on online recommendations, it’s good for them to have lots of nuanced information rather than nothing in between the polarised “oh my god I love it” and “it was the worst thing ever” reviews (I find that really irritating but it seems to happen a fair bit, particularly with online retailers that allow users to review the items: half the people give the item 1 star out of 5, half the people give it 5 stars, at which point I just decide to ignore everyone, haha). But yeah, the best reviews and recommendations are when people have really used the item and have written a thoughtful, considered evaluation of it. It seems obvious, but in my internet travels I see plenty of people doing otherwise.

  2. Jaime on June 2, 2012 at 10:41 pm said:

    Well if it is any comfort, I suspect your readers tend to be the HM type. I think it is also interesting how the mere repetition of a certain product can wear down even an HM personality, as you have discussed. Love your blog – thanks!

    • Jess on June 2, 2012 at 10:51 pm said:

      True, if someone cares enough about making informed choices as a consumer to the extent that they’re willing to read a rather dry blog that attempts to address the topic, then yeah, I’d agree that they are probably the HM type, haha. ;) Possibly like myself, in that I sometimes manage to burn myself out on trying to gather and assess so much information about potential choices that I often end up not bothering to buy anything at all. I guess that could be considered a “success” in minimising consumption, heh.

  3. Well I think that’s a lovely photo.

    I’m not surprised by the behavior of LM individuals, especially if the recommendation comes from a group/individual that he or she has “aligned” himself to – a particular “style tribe”, a blogger, a publication. Sometime whose style I admire could make me look twice at a bag that I previously passed over for example. (though I ultimately consider myself an HM).

    If I ever recommend something, I prefer it to be something I’ve used for some time, and actually would buy again, assuming it was still available.

  4. I read a similar analysis on these theories, and actually, if I recall correctly, the LM people were ultimately a happier lot at the end of the day. The nomenclature was slightly different, but I believe it was the same concept: maximizers (HM) versus satisficers (LM). The HM people spend so much time and energy researching and analyzing various options, that they are never completely satisfied, always concerned that a better option is out there; meanwhile, the satisficers are happy once their minimum criteria are met. They do not put a high priority on the intense research required in finding the “absolute best.”
    http://happiness-project.com/happiness_project/2006/06/are_you_a_satis/

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