Blogs & Comment

A hidden bias among consumers

I consider myself to be a savvy shopper. I do research online, speak to friends for recommendations and will often ask salespeople for a deal. But when presented with multiple options, I may subconsciously have a preference for the first one. That’s what I discovered after talking to Antonia Mantonakis, an assistant professor of marketing at Brock University.
She performed a study where people sampled wines and then picked their favourite. Participants tried two to five samples. Here’s where things got underhanded for the sake of science. The human guinea pigs were told they were tasting different varieties of wine from the Niagara region. In reality, each person’s samples were from the same bottle, which was made by students at Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute. Given that twist, you might expect people who had two samples to prefer the first and second options with equal frequency. The study, however, revealed participants picked the first sample 68.7% of the time and the second 31.2%. When the number of samples increased, people still chose the first one more often than the others.
Mantonakis has a few theories on the reason for the bias. She says participants may treat the first sample as an automatic winner that needs to be beaten. Society’s tendency to view the first of something, such as the first place in a competition, as the best, may also be playing a role, she says.
As for the practical application of her research, Mantonakis says salespeople who offer multiple options for a purchase, such as a real estate agents, may want to first pitch the item they want to sell the most. Consumers, on the other hand, should be aware of the bias, when shopping, she says.
On a side note, Mantonakis’s study also revealed the tendency for people to pick the last option increased with the number of samples. She says the last option could overtake the first one as the preferred choice at higher sample numbers. Mantonakis, however, didn’t have the chance to show this through her study. Turns out, the university’s ethics committee wouldn’t allow people in her experiment to drink more than five samples of wine.