Ellen Peters

Ellen Peters

Companies are now discovering the real value of a more empirical approach to why certain marketing strategies are more successful than others. For Dr. Ellen Peters, faculty member of the Psychology Department at The Ohio State University, the science of choosing is her research focus. “Consumers often do not know what they want,” she explained. “They ‘construct’ preferences based on their feelings and on easily available cues in the situation. They can then make very quick decisions, but those decisions can be biased.” Peters said that psychology plays a big role in these decisions.

A large manufacturing company based in Ohio sells in many retail outlets, but also maintains a web site for those who prefer to shop online. The company was aware that there were opportunities for improvement on their web site, but they did not know the best ways to reconfigure it to improve sales. In discussions on various ways to interact with Ohio State, the company had been talking with Dr. Sharell Mikesell, Ohio State Associate Vice President, and Director of the Industry Liaison Office (ILO). Mikesell introduced Peters to the discussion, and the initial result was an unrestricted grant to study the site in the context of customer choice and make suggestions for improving the site.

“Although the site is good in many ways, it has too many options that are too similar, so it confuses the potential customer,” Peters explained. “We are now launching a study to evaluate customer choice.” “We will develop suggestions on how to present products online to allow customers to better process the option and pricing information and ultimately increase sales for the company.” She continued, “From a psychology perspective, we will look at the amount of information on the site, the number of options, the ability for site visitors to comprehend the choices, the pricing format, and the use of discounts / coupons. We are really interested in how numbers on the site are processed and understood by site visitors.”

Peters will design and supervise the project. Undergraduate students will do the needed programming for the data collection; a graduate student will work on study design and data analysis. Peters expects the results to point to a number of options and organizational changes for the online store. “We will be seeking ways to make the site more intuitive for the consumers, so they can see what is available, and decide what would be a good choice for the individual’s need.”

“The science of choosing is based on how people – the consumers in this case – process information and use it in their choices,” Peters said. “We know from other studies of consumers that there are some predictable patterns in the way that people relate to numbers in decision-making situations.” “Format, literally where numbers appear in relationship to the items being considered, can have a subtle yet very strong influence on preference.” She said, “It’s like there is a secret life to numbers, due to their format and how they are arranged in the visual field.” Peters will provide her team’s results to help the client company tweak its online store.

Then, pending a successful first project, continuing research could delve into other studies on to improve the presentation of products online, promote sales, and add product and pricing information that would assist the customer. Peters says the goal of this type of relationship with industry is the cultivation of a win-win, ongoing relationship.

** The Industry Liaison Office (ILO) was launched in December 2008 to found and foster mutually beneficial relationships with industry and organizations worldwide by brokering the alignment of Ohio State’s core capabilities in learning, discovery and innovation, and services with industry needs; creating dynamic and sustainable assets for our partners, State of Ohio and the global community. The ILO links the university’s immense assets to the needs of industry to drive ideas for research, new products, improved processes, and an expansion of services offered. Ohio State has achieved world-class status in such areas of research as advanced materials, electromagnetics, medical imaging, cancer diagnosis and therapeutics, infectious and cardiovascular diseases, veterinary medicine, environmental sciences, and agbioproducts.

Category : General Information