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Abstract

Two bodies of research – the phantom decoy literature and inaction inertia literature – focus on consumers’ responses to missed opportunities. The current study integrates, and builds upon, these literatures to explore features of unavailable options that moderate consumer choice, and their potential implications for brands and retailers. We predicted that unavailable options that are known in advance, near (i.e. slightly more attractive than the target option) or are higher quality will benefit both the brand and store. Conversely, we hypothesized that unavailable options that are not known in advance, far (i.e. much more attractive than the target option) or are lower price would be detrimental to the brand but have little consequence to the store. Six hundred and twenty-five adult participants completed an online survey in which they were asked to choose between pairs of household products of different prices and quality ratings. Participants were randomly assigned to conditions that either included, or did not include, an unavailable decoy option. Characteristics of unavailable decoys (knowledge, proximity, or dominating attribute) and target type (lower price vs. higher price) were manipulated within subjects. Both knowledge and proximity moderated target choice when an unavailable decoy was present. However, the presence of missed opportunities had a negative effect on purchasing overall. This suggests that features of unavailable options may shift consumer preferences in favor of a given brand, but decrease overall sales, which may be detrimental to the retailer.

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