Then the researchers did an experiment to test whether the "which to buy" prime works on products unrelated to the products being evaluated. They had other students read about and evaluate pairs of different computers. They asked roughly half of them to pick a preference, while the others were not asked to choose. Then they presented all the students with information about different vacation packages. Overall, those who were asked to pick a preference were much more likely to say they'd be willing to purchase a vacation package.
Lastly, the researchers tried an experiment that tested people's ability to part with real money. They asked student volunteers to evaluate pairs of products like mp3 players or cell phones. Again, roughly half of them were then asked to pick a preference, while the others were not. They then said the experiment was over, but on the students' way out, the researchers mentioned that they were selling candy from a different, completed experiment at half price. While only 2% of the students who did not choose a preference bought candy, 28% of the students in the "which-to-buy" group did.
As the researchers wrote in the December issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, "Salespersons may increase the likelihood of making a sale by inducing customers to consider which of several products they prefer while at the same time distracting them from making a decision of whether they really want to buy anything at all."
The research was funded by the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong.