An Empirical Investigation of Consideration Set Formation

John S. Hulland, University of Western Ontario
[ to cite ]:
John S. Hulland (1992) ,"An Empirical Investigation of Consideration Set Formation", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, eds. John F. Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 253-254.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992      Pages 253-254


John S. Hulland, University of Western Ontario

Consideration has been demonstrated to be an important component in consumer judgement and choice (e.g. Campbell 1969; Hauser and Wernerfelt 1990; Nedungadi 1990). For example, if a product is unable to obtain consideration from a reasonably high proportion of the consumers in a product market, it may be incapable of attaining sufficient market share to ensure long run viability. However, little attention has been paid to the processes underlying consideration set formation (see Roberts 1989 for a recent exception). The current research examines the impact that variations in the accessibility of prior information and the number of previous choices have on the size and composition of subjects' consideration sets.

Consideration set alternatives are likely to be more accessible in memory than unconsidered alternatives, and are therefore likely to guide subsequent search (and choice) behavior (e.g. Biehal and Chakravarti 1986; Lynch et al. 1988). However, when these existing consideration set alternatives are no longer attractive due to a new set of task conditions, externally available brands are more likely to receive serious consideration.

Increasing the number of previous choices should also lead to an increase in the variability of alternatives included in individuals' final consideration sets, for three main reasons. First, previous selections made from subsets of alternatives may include alternatives satisfactory only relative to the other alternatives included in those subsets. Second, previous "errors" in selection are likely to carry over to subsequent choices. Finally, task factors may change from one choice occasion to the next, resulting in more varied alternative selections over time.

An experimental method, closely related to the one used by Biehal and Chakravarti (1983, 1986), was employed to test these suppositions. Subjects were randomly assigned to one of four initial information processing goal conditions, requiring them to make a choice, form overall evaluations, or memorize attribute information. An initial set of product information described a subset of four alternatives on four attributes. When this information was removed, information for a new subset of three alternatives was presented, and subjects were asked to make a choice from all seven alternatives previously encountered. Information for an eighth brand was then presented using the same four attributes as before, along with information for a new, fifth attribute presented for all eight brands. This final attribute was manipulated to be either extremely important or not at all important, after the original attribute information had been removed and was therefore available (if at all) only in memory. Subjects made a final choice from all eight brands, and were then asked to identify their consideration sets.

The results of the current study can be summarized in terms of three major findings. Subjects with high accessibility for previously encountered brand information were significantly more likely both to include these brands in their consideration sets when they became subsequently more attractive, and to have consideration sets more varied in composition. For example, "brand A" became a very attractive choice alternative when the size attribute was identified as important, but became only moderately attractive when size was unimportant. Because brand A information was encountered with the original subset of product information, it was available subsequently only in memory. As shown in the Figure, subjects asked to memorize this original information were more likely to include brand A in their consideration sets when the size attribute was important. In contrast, subjects asked to evaluate or choose from the original subset of alternatives did not alter their consideration of brand A, regardless of the importance of the size attribute.

A second observation drawn from the current research is that, as the number of previous choices made by subjects increased, the number of previously selected alternatives included in their consideration sets grew, while the sizes of their sets did not change. Finally, the composition of subjects' consideration sets grew significantly more varied as the number of previous choices increased.

The results of this study have a number of practical implications. First, they suggest that, given enough prior choices, many consumers may eventually include only previously selected alternatives in their consideration sets. From a manufacturer's perspective, as consumers' experiences with brands in a product category grow, it becomes more and more difficult for new brands to achieve consideration. Conversely, early entrant brands can expect to achieve high levels of success if they can develop and sustain early consumer consideration. Second, the results of this study suggest that consumers' initial processing goals can strongly influence the particular set of brands that they will seriously consider. In many cases, it appears that consumers will be unwilling or unable to re-evaluate previously rejected alternatives, and that marketers essentially have only a single chance to obtain consumer consideration -- when the brand is first encountered.




Biehal, Gabriel and Dipankar Chakravarti (1983), "Information Accessibility as a Moderator of Consumer Choice," Journal of Consumer Research, 10 (June), 1 - 14.

Biehal, Gabriel and Dipankar Chakravarti (1986), "Consumers' Use of Memory and External information in Choice: Macro and Micro Perspectives," Journal of Consumer Research, 12 (March), 382 - 405.

Campbell, Brian M. (1969), "The Existence of Evoked Sets and Determinants of its Magnitude in Brand Choice Behavior," unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, New York, NY.

Hauser, John R. and Birger Wernerfelt (1990), "An Evaluation Cost Model of Consideration Sets," Journal of Consumer Research, 16 (March), 393 - 408.

Lynch, John G. Jr., Howard Marmorstein, and Michael F. Weigold (1988), "Choices From Sets Including Remembered Brands: Use of Recalled Attributes and Prior Evaluations," Journal of Consumer Research, 15 (September), 169 -184.

Nedungadi, Prakash (1990), "Recall and Consumer Consideration Sets: Influencing Choice Without Altering Brand Evaluations," Journal of Consumer Research, 17 (December), 263 - 276.

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