Product Loyalty: Familiarity Beats Superiority

In what is sure to launch another tiresome Mac/PC debate, the Journal of Consumer Research has released a study that shows familiarity to be the deciding factor when consumers are asked which product is superior:

“The costs associated with thinking about and using a particular product decrease as a function of the amount of experience a consumer has with it. Thus, repeated consumption or use of an incumbent product results in a (cognitive) switching cost that increases the probability that a consumer will continue to choose the incumbent over competing alternatives.”

So, basically, people are too lazy to learn something new, even if it’s easier to learn than what they already know, because, well, they already know it.

If you’re familiar with something, you’re not an objective judge of its quality. Unless it’s Linux. Those people are always right, just ask them.—MEGHANN MARCO

Product loyalty: consumers mistake familiarity with superiority [Ars Technica]
Explaining Cognitive Lock-In: The Role of Skill-Based Habits of Use in Consumer Choice [Journal of Consumer Research]
(Photo: Wikipedia)


Edit Your Comment

  1. mrosedal says:

    Hey I take offense to that Linux comment!!! This Linux person will admit when he is wrong…it just isn’t that often ;-) j/k

    I would agree with this article, but for me if there is something new I like to try it.

  2. Jon Parker says:

    So since I use a Mac at home and a PC at work and prefer the Mac, is my opinion valid or does it simply mean that I prefer being at home?

  3. Dustbunny says:

    And this is why tv advertisers are only interested in younger viewers — they think us old farts (i.e., anybody older than 35)are so set in our buying/consuming ways that we’ll never try any new products anyway.

  4. thank god I use a credit union! those stupid banks.

    avoid all your troubles and use a credit union! :)

  5. joharp says:

    I second that offense. Linux users can forget what distribution they are running!

    How does this explain the urge for people to “upgrade” to MS Vista? Harder to use and looks more like an Apple.

  6. *disclaimer for those who do not understand obscure jokes*

    yes I know it is the wrong topic. I love how you guys tied in lemmings with product loyalty. Superb.

  7. AcidReign says:

    …..Yep, that’s the exact reason I’m still a Windows guy. But… my Mac brother has brought me his Macbook to fix, twice. Seems there’s no Mac tool like Spinrite to revive a dead hard drive! I don’t think there really IS a best OS for all uses.

    …..I have a Linux laptop, too, and a BSD box in the basement for network file backup. Lots more fun to hack around with Linux, but if I’m leaning back in the easy chair surfing and listening to music, no. Admittedly, it’s on slower hardware, but my HP XP Media Center boots to the desktop in less than one minute, whereas the new Ubuntu takes about 5 minutes.

    …..Knowing what the hell you’re doing on an OS is very valuable. Us long-time Windows users have had to learn a lot.

  8. FLConsumer says:

    So where does that leave those of us who run it all? Linux/Windows/Mac, I run them all. If I could only have one computer, it’d be the Windows PC… can’t beat the software available for it. If I could only pick 2? Windows & Linux… Last would be the Mac.

    In another few years Windows will be no different than the Mac, as they keep trying to dumb down the interface (see Vista & Office 2007).

  9. jurgis says:

    @AcidReign: You have basically just validated these findings. There are plenty of data recovery tools for Mac (HFS and HFS+ format… there is this thing called ‘Google’, try it).

    Sure Ubuntu has quirks, but if it’s taking you 5 minutes to boot you haven’t really researched/understood it well enough to set it up correctly.

    As far as OSs go… it’s hard to top OS X. In terms of useful eyecandy and a super slick interface, the competitors don’t come close (on top of that it runs on a BSD derivative).

    This study validates what many have known all along: people are mentally lazy and complacent. Why learn “better” when “good enough” will do?

    I’ve been using Windows since ~89-90 (in various flavors) writing COM components, Win32 apps, .NET… many MS things and when I use something nicer (like Ruby or Java on OS X) there is no comparison. Windows is a P.O.S. But for most people it’s just “good enough” to stumble along with. But man, it’s fugly (both in terms of UI and in terms of internals).

    I.e. it may seem harder at first, but using emacs and gcc makes faster, safer assembly than anything VS 2005 will spit out. Food for thought.

  10. mikyrok says:

    I really have no idea, but if I had to venture a guess I’d have to say that blog readers are early adopters of new technologies. Because of that most of the comments are probably going to be “well I tend to go out and learn new thigns to find what’s better”

  11. Mr. Gunn says:

    you’re wrong, mikey. Most of the comments are going to be of the form, “you know what’s worse that that?”

    For example, Linux users are evangelistic at times, but the worst of the lot are those who propose LaTeX and clever scripting as the replacement for all office suite software.

    “If only everyone knew Perl, we wouldn’t be having this argument!”

    and if only everyone knew genetics, then we wouldn’t debate evolution, but there you have it. The central distinction between pc and mac people, some people like to tinker and customize, some want stuff to “just work”, even if what it “just does” isn’t exactly what they want.

  12. revmatty says:

    Hey, I’m a Linux user, and I’m wrong six times before breakfast. Not about linux, but about plenty of other things. Just ask my wife.

    Actually, I use OS X on my laptop and desktop, linux on my servers, and I’m forced to use Windows at work. I haven’t had Windows at home in 6 years, and haven’t missed it a single bit.

  13. Bay State Darren says:

    Side note: Why on Earth does this site link articles to obscure keywords (i.e. Don’t Blame The Messenger and Waste Not) whose index only contains that one article? Not very useful.

  14. Meg Marco says:

    @Bay State Darren: It’s very useful, you’re just not familiar with it.

  15. AcidReign says:

    @jurgis: My original post was not to dispute, but agree, with the wise and esteemed Ms. Marco. You both are right! Yes, you have unmasked my ineptness. As the original post suggests, I have become happy with “good enough.” However, I do like to tinker, at times. I’ve added your recommended sites to “stuff I need to check out.”

    …..My brother brought me a dead Macbook (a completely unfamiliar device on which I’ve never even seen the boot screen), and was talking about a $2500 recovery fee that would lose his directory structure. I mentioned what I had read in my Spinrite documentation. We together figured out how to use screwdrivers and extract the drive. I opened up my PC, hooked up IDE and power cables, ran Spinrite, and saved him $2500 bucks in 4 hours. It rebooted flawlessly, and I helped him copy his data to one of my portable USB drives.

    …..My problems with Ubuntu’s booting time seem to stem directly from ndiswrapper, and the noxious driver my crappy Acer-included wireless card requires. Linux is a hobby for me, right now, not a serious pursuit. Yeah, I could probably research it further and buy a card that would work better (I can open the bottom of the laptop and remove the card), but the preseason football mags have come out, and my spare time is mostly getting eaten up arguing sports. That, and trying to help my son get better in tennis. (while having a surprisingly good time at it, myself!)

    …..Yeah, I know. I should probably narrow my interests and get better in the important ones. In the meantime, Apple suffers and Bill Gates gets more of my money.

  16. Bay State Darren says:

    @meghannmarco: In case you forgot where you just came from?

  17. MeOhMy says:

    You are *SO* right! I mean, I TRIED Pikmin, but I just keep going back to good old Lemmings!

  18. Beerad says:

    Isn’t there another possible factor – namely, that if people think another product is superior, wouldn’t they already be using it?

    On a related issue, sure you get used to what you’re using, and it’s not that surprising that as you get more and more capable with whatever it is, it’s easier to use and you perceive it as a better product (perhaps in part because you’re so good at using it).

    And how many people are really going to admit “yeah, my [OS/lawnmower/breakfast cereal] that I love and have used for years is totally inferior.”?

  19. Wormfather says:

    @Holden Caulfield: I swear that’s what you get for buying computers from guys claiming to be from ConEd.

  20. tvh2k says:


  21. tvh2k says:

    It’s lemmings! I remember when I upgraded to the Pentium from the 486 my lemmings were running so fast. Apparently they timed them to the processor clock. That’s ok, it just made the game that much better!

  22. Ponygirl says:

    To this study I say: Duh.

    It took a study to tell them what simply psychology already reveals?

  23. methane says:

    Is Windows really so much harder to use than MacOS? I use Ubuntu at home and windows at work. I’ve never used MacOS. I mean, Beryl is nice, and from what I gather it’s got the graphics like MacOS. But do these things make the OS “easier” to use? Does a Magic lamp effect (I prefer the leaves effect in beryl) make an OS better or just mean that you have to upgrade? If you use KDE everything in you environment works together, K3B, Amarok, and Ktorrent integrate really well. But these are things that work pretty much as well on windows. Fit and Finish is one thing, but usability…

    Slightly aside,
    I’ve always thought about those “I’m a Mac” commercials that there should be like five to ten “Macs” standing on the right, and 1,000 PCs standing on the left to get a good sense of all of the variety of hardware that the two OSes support.

  24. methane says:

    By ‘work as well on windows’ I mean that there are similar programs which get all the same jobs done. And given the ubiquity of windows, it seems like a better platform for early adopters as well. You know, the type of people who will comment on blog… ;)