Quality matters, except when status matters more.
When shopping for something, do you tend to go to multiple store to find the best value for the money – or do you tend to stop as soon as you find a product that is merely “good enough”?
Consumer psychologists have labeled both kinds of shoppers: “Maximizers” tend to keep shopping, going to extra lengths to find the best product that satisfies an array of criteria. “Satisficers” are happy when products pass a certain threshold of quality – and are more likely to purchase right then when they find it.
However, research that came out of a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (“The role of social comparison for maximizers and satisficers: Wanting the best or wanting to be the best?” by Kimberlee Weaver, Kim Daniloski, Norbert Schwarz, and Keenan Cottone.) showed that maximizers are not simply motivated by getting the best product or deal.
Quality vs. Status
It turns out maximizers are significantly affected by a phenomenon called “social comparison.” In short – their purchase decisions are dramatically affected by their perception of products relative to those owned by others.
For example – subjects in one part of the study were given choices that indicated whether their concerns were more about quality vs. their position in the marketplace.
“[Choice 1:] Your laptop was rated 60/100 in quality by Consumer Reports. Nearly all your fellow students have low-quality laptops rated 50
[Choice 2:] Your laptop was rated 80/100 in quality by Consumer Reports. Nearly all your fellow students have top-of-the-line laptops rated 95. “
Other choices similarly asked people to choose between an having an product that was better than others but inferior in quality, or a superior product that wasn’t as good as what other’s have.
Maximizers are influenced by the social status aspect – far more so than satisficers. They are statistically more likely to purchase an inferior product that puts them in a higher relative standing, rather than go for the better product that puts them towards the bottom.
It goes further than that: The researchers also found that maximizers were more likely to accept inferior quality fakes so long as they appeared to others as if they were high quality and authentic.
It’s possible that many Americans simply care about having a better quality of life than their neighbors, even if that means having an overall lower quality of life than they could have.
As a practical matter – if we could somehow qualify our audience as maximizers – we might be more effective talking more about how they, as individuals feel about their standard of living compared to their peers rather than the overall standard of living of the area (or the gap between the rich and poor).
It seems that when talking to maximizers, overall decline in quality of life might not be that concerning to them so long as they feel they have the mere appearance of success or accomplishment. These people might be okay with a crappy school so long as their crappy school is better than the surrounding ones.
Conversely, if we can qualify our audience as satisficers, we might talk more about the decline in absolutes… global stats, roads, things that speak to the overall poorer quality of things we care about (like education).
Asking questions that identify and separate satisficers from maximizers might help us create better targeting universes for different kinds of messaging relevant to quality of life, salaries, and other aspects relevan