Traditionally, firms have marketed their products in a controlled and systematic way, offering well-defined options among which the consumer may choose. Recent technology, however, has allowed control to shift towards the consumer. Now, buyers can specify product features, select the means of delivery and even set their own price. Certain products are also tailored to offer greater choices during use.
While many might think that such changes increase consumer control and empowerment, and generally leave customers better off, a group of professors including INSEAD faculty Ziv Carmon, Amitava Chattopadhyay and Klaus Wertenbroch ask whether this is necessarily the case. In this research primer, soon to appear in the Marketing Letters Journal, they examine how increased consumer control may or may not result in feelings of empowerment and satisfaction.
Consider, for example, a video system that allows viewers to control what is on television at any time. In the face of such vast options, the couch potato may feel overwhelmed. Instead of finding and enjoying a favorite program, he or she may instead flip channels aimlessly, not fully focusing or watching one show.
To illuminate such situations, the authors describe a set of research directions for a more complete understanding of consumer control and empowerment. They consider how changes in the choice environment could lead consumers to feel that they have more control, and when consumers with greater control actually receive improved choices or greater satisfaction.
Briefly, they propose three elements that influence the consumers experience of a choice as empowering: i) the ability to specify and adjust the context of available choices, ii) the ability to assess progress in the choice process, and iii) information about other consumers and their decisions.
The authors also raise interesting questions about longer-term consequences of consumer empowerment. Will empowered consumers always reach an outcome that is more satisfactory? How does the experience of empowerment impact the way consumers ultimately evaluate their choices? They also review literature in these areas.
They conclude that a shift from the conventional choice environment towards greater consumer choice control may not be as desirable as it at first seems. It has the potential to damage both the decision-making and consumption experience. However, they suggest that when properly devised, consumer control can indeed provide empowerment and greater satisfaction with choice outcome.