Why Being Hard-To-Get Attracts Consumers (And Men)

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Why would a person drive across town to get a bottle of wine rather than pick up a nice red down the street? Why would a guy at a bar seek out the woman across the room instead of the one right in front of him? According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, certain types of shoppers and suitors prefer putting in the extra effort, even when the effort is pointless.

The researchers started by challenging the assumption that for consumers easier is always better. “We are conditioned to think of effort as something negative. It’s painful, right?” says Aparna Labroo, a marketing professor at the University of Toronto, but “some consumers just like challenge.”

In other words, the researchers posited, some consumers are less interested in products that occupy the most prominent place on the shelf or that are stocked in every store. For them, harder-to-get items seem better.

Labroo and University of Chicago doctoral student Sara Kim found that such people are sometimes motivated by the value they’re considering. For shoppers, that may come down to whether they want to buy a good product or whether they want to buy the best of all possible products.

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For example, participants in one of their experiments were told that they needed to buy an exceptional bottle of Barolo for a friend’s birthday. One group was told that the only store selling the wine was very close by, while others were told the only store was halfway across town. Those who believed they would have to travel presumed the wine would be much better.

“Usually when people want the best outcome, they associate striving with that outcome,” Labroo says. Meanwhile, when participants were told they simply had to buy a good bottle of wine for a friend, no special occasion involved, they were happier to just mosey down the street. This same feeling of importance may be what inspires shoppers to needlessly choose a product pushed back from the front of a shelf rather than one at the front.

NEXT: Certain people feel themselves “deserving of the best outcomes”

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