Editor's note: Diane Girardot is sending dispatches from the American Psychological Association conference in Orlando, Fla. from August 2-5.

By Diane Russell Girardot, L.P.C.

Savvy shoppers may be more "chill" than more novice consumers facing down 200 different types of pain relievers at the local super pharmacy, but they all tend to make similar purchases in the end when it comes to selecting a national brand product over a copy-cat store brand.

Product knowledge and exposure among expert shoppers helps reduce the discomfort of making a choice, according to Katie Kelting, an assistant marketing professor at University of Arkansas who today presented results from a study on what makes the selection process more comfortable.

Think of the box of CVS Ibuprofin next to the very similar box of Advil - similar colors and texts, she says. The CVS brand even invites you right there on the label to compare it to Advil. There are many other examples in the store aisles including baby bath, antacids, and mouthwashes. This is just the pharmacy area alone. Thousands of brand varieties and labels throughout an entire store can give all shoppers pause.

"It is difficult for the consumer", explains Kelting speaking at the American Psychological Association's 120th Annual Convention in Orlando, Fla.  "My study asks if we can make it easier."

The answer:  "Yes!"

Kelting explains that private label brands "jumped into the marketplace rapidly and became very pronounced.  The result for consumers was a tug of war between the positives of a wider selection and the negatives of an increase in confusion.  

Her study concludes that "process fluency" - the degree of ease external information is processed and contributes to a person's likes or dislikes - can be influenced by knowledge, exposure, risk and proximity.  

When copy-cat products are placed side by side with the known brand, called "double-facing", a selection for example of six products is cut in half to three.  If the products are separated across a shelf the number jumps back to six and there is an increase in confusion and anxiety.

Kelting's research found knowledgable consumers will see the copycat but buy the national brand with little stress. Novices will be more prone to hesitate, but still buy the national brand. So "double facing" made no difference in product selection but it did increase positive feelings internally for consumers.

Choices based on risk were also explored in Kelting's research with college students and condom brands. The national brand Trojan, because of a perceived dependability, was selected more easily than copycats with little reported discomfort.  

And exposure to a product, private label or national brand, makes it more comfortable to choose since it has a perception of  popularity.

Diane Russell Girardot is a Chester County-based licensed mental health professional, who is a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter now merging both careers with her coverage of the APA convention.

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