The devil may be in the details for some shoppers – but not for all of them, new research shows.
The study by professors at Brown University and the University of Colorado-Boulder found that consumers widely differ when it comes to the level of detail that makes them feel they understand a product or service and in turn want to buy it.
The research found that thoughtful "explanation fiends" are more motivated when a product was explained, while more intuitive "explanation foes" felt confident in their understanding when the explanation was superficial. For those shoppers, deeper detail eroded their understanding and ultimately their willingness to pay for the product.
Colorado assistant professor Philip Fernbach, the study's lead author, said despite their differences, both groups are similar in that they feel the need to understand how a product works before it will gain their trust.
"The more they feel like they understand, the more they will be willing to pay for the product," he said.
Steven Sloman, a Brown University professor and one of the study's authors, said it is up to marketers to figure out how to reach each type of detail-driven consumer.
"The fact is that people differ," Sloman said. "Your advertising, your marketing and your understanding of people has to be guided by an appreciation of who you are talking to."
The researchers reached their conclusions after conducting a series of experiments, including one that presented subjects with products and explanations of how they worked. Some were shown only shallow explanations of four products and then were asked to rate their understanding and their willingness to purchase the products. The subjects were then asked to how much they'd be willing to pay and asked to generate their own explanation of the product based on their level of understanding.
The experiment found that explanation foes readjusted how much they would pay for the product from $8 to less than $6 after realizing they didn't understand as much as they thought they did. At the same time, explanation fiends raised the amount they were willing to pay for a product by $2.50 after being asked to explain the products.
"We were actually shocked by how powerfully the data came out," Sloman said.
The study, which was coauthored by Brown undergraduates Robert St. Louis and Julia Shube, was recently published online in the Journal of Consumer Research.