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Familiarity and preference formation during the choice process

Researchers have elaborated on the mechanisms that influence decision-making and the role of heuristics, visual attention and preference in decision-making. To get insight into these mechanisms that lacks conscious access or control {{369 Wedel, M. 2007;}} in complex decision-making, we applied process tracing method that has been advocated by previous researchers {{290 Payne,John W. 1976; 300 Olshavsky,Richard W. 1979}}. The fundamental standpoint of the present paper is that consumer’s use familiarity and preference at different stages of decision-making and this is based on the research done on staged decision-making and the use of heuristics in the decision-making process. Furthermore, decisions for consumer goods are often complex because of the number of alternatives that are represented in each product category and it is believed that preferences are constructed rather than retrieved in complex decision-making. However, memory plays a crucial role in preference and choice and not much is known about the relationship between memory processes, such as familiarity, and preference formation {{605 Weber, E. 2006}}. Thus, we assume that preferences are both retrieved and constructed by the participants in the present paper.

One hundred and twenty-eight Arizona State University undergraduates partook in the study (51 percent females; 64 percent did regular shopping for household). The participants were recruited from campus during a five day period and given 10USD compensation for their participation in the study.

The study design was such that all participants were exposed to two digital images of shelves containing two different product categories (Coffee/Dishwashing liquid). Each trial started with a brief description of the study and a calibration of the eye-tracking apparatus. A series of 3 shelf images were shown to each participant, the first image being a familiarizing task image and then the 2 subsequent shelf images, coffee and dishwashing liquid. Breakfast cereal was used as a familiarizing image in order for the participants to be accustomed to the procedure of the trial before the stimulus images was presented. The two shelf images were combined with a choice task and given before each image was shown the participants. The search task was “please choose a product that you would like to buy”, as if they were about to do so in a store.

The focus of the analyses is the gaze behavior, measured in terms of observation duration and observation count, during the consumer choice process. The results of our study shed light on the interaction between of preferences based on product familiarity and preference formation taking place during the choice process.