A study of smartphone buyers in two English cities has found that people are more confident about their purchases when products resemble each other.
"Apple and Samsung may be battling in the courts over patents and copyright infringements, but their customers actually like the fact that their devices have similar attributes," according to Dr Qing Wang, Professor of Marketing & Innovation at Warwick Business School.
Professor Wang said: "Our research looked to find out if brand similarity has a negative impact overall on consumer decision making and consumer satisfaction as they are required to increase their mental processing and they are prone to confusion — what has been referred to as 'similarity confusion'."
Wang and Paurav Shukla, of Glasgow Caledonian University London, "unexpectedly discovered that not knowing the difference between brands with similar attributes may result in consumers simply transferring their confidence in one brand to another".
The researchers interviewed 800 shoppers, 316 of whom filled in a questionnaire about "consumer confusion, choice goals and decision".
Wang's conclusion is that striving to be different may not be the best marketing policy. "Highlighting similarity between competing products in marketing communication may have a positive effect on consumers’ choice confidence as illustrated in the Samsung-Apple case," she says.
However, 'choice overload' can have a detrimental effect. "While having lots of choice is initially attractive to consumers as it is more likely to find them the best option, having too many choices demotivates the consumer from making a decision," Professor Wang says.
The same is also true of having "too much information to digest". Providing more information "may be counter-productive" and create confusion that increases anxiety and fear of choosing. The aim should be to make information simpler and clearer.
Although the research was devoted to consumers choosing smartphones, you'd expect similar effects with employees choosing devices (including BYOD) or IT departments choosing systems. You could expect to feel more confident (or less anxious) when choosing between a small number of similar systems than between ones that are very different from one another.
The study, Linking sources of consumer confusion to decision satisfaction, has been published in the Psychology and Marketing journal.