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What to Measure to Understand Consumer Choices?

Marketing research often measures consumer attitudes to understand purchase decisions. However, in our last article on the topic we showed that external/contextual factors such as the weather can have a stronger impact on purchase than category-related attitudes (the article is available here).

Leveraging the same tanning & sun protection dataset (with a purchase simulation of a polarizing sunblock concept called “ProSun” in different contexts. N=130), we further analyze the psychology of consumer choice and its influencers.

Attitudes to tanning are linked to “self-control”, and have no impact on sunblock choice.

From exploratory factor analysis, there is no specific factor capturing the different attitudinal variables that could be called “tanning attitudes”. In fact, .favorable attitudes to sunbathing like tanning enjoyment and the importance to get tanned highly correlate with risk-seeking on other aspects of life like early product adoption (i.e. switching risk).

Attitudes to tanning do not provide tanning-related information but are part of a much more general factor which combines aspects of spontaneity and attitude to risk, which we can call “general self-control”.

With “ProSun”, the no-risk/no-tanning concept we created for the research, the risk associated to the newness of the product is counterbalanced by its extreme risk-reduction benefit. In other words, the overall self-control factor is neutralized by design.

Ultimately, the choice of our polarizing concept is uninfluenced by any single category-related attitude because the factor they reflect has a zero-sum impact.

Contextual variables (weather and mood) strongly influence choice.

It is equally interesting to note that all contextual dimensions such as weather, selling point location and participants’ mood at the time of the interview were grouped in one factor. These variables are similar in the way that they have an unconscious impact and are eluding consumer control.

Before exploring the data, we postulated that location (indoor vs. outdoor) would have an impact on consumer’s choice. However, we observed no significant difference in purchase decision; whether people were interviewed inside or outside and we had to reject this hypothesis. We are of course surprised by this conclusion, and interested in learning more about the impact of location on consumer’s choice going forward.

After extra analysis, we find that weather influences purchase decisions in two ways: it has a direct influence on choice as well as an indirect effect through mood. The direct impact of weather on behaviors has already been proven[i], the impact of weather on mood as well[ii]. What is interesting to see is that these two effects are independent as the weather influences behaviors even without mood variations (i.e. keeping mood constant and comparing choice in the main weather conditions).

Finally, mood has an extra impact on its own that is uncorrelated to the weather (keeping weather constant). Mood negatively influences the choice of “ProSun”; the worse mood is, the more “ProSun” is chosen over other products. This choice is clearly the best long-term health option; people may act more rationally in a bad mood or more impulsively in a good mood. Either way, mood highly influences decision making.

Behaviors are better predictors of purchase decisions than attitudes.

Purchase rates of “ProSun” are different among men and women even though both genders show similar attitudes towards tanning.

What drives the difference in product choice comes from behaviors: women use higher SPF protections than men to avoid sunburns, which makes them more inclined to purchase our total protection.

More generally, sunscreen protections behaviors have a direct impact on the product choice. People who use high SPF or reapply sunscreen often tend to prefer “ProSun” over other brands.

Past category-related behaviors are much better predictors of choice than attitudes.

Marketing research should put more emphasis on contextual and behavioral data to reliably understand and predict consumer choices.

Measuring attitudes to understand purchase decision is a common approach in the marketing research industry. However, as we could see in the context of tanning, attitudes may not have any impact on consumer’s choices.

Decisions are significantly affected by contextual factors such as weather and mood that are unconscious or outside of his/her control. In addition to contextual factors, past behaviors are good predictors of current product choices.

And these are the factors researchers ought to prioritize in research.


Reinholtz N., Griskevicius V. (2011). On Sunshine, Snow, and Sex: Environmental Effects in Consumer Preference. Advances in Consumer Research; vol. 39, p. 97.


Murraya K., Di Murob F., Finna A., Popkowski Leszczyc P. (2010). The effect of weather on consumer spending. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services: vol. 17:6, pp. 512-520.

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