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Smartphone smarts: trying to be different doesn't work

In fact what the researchers call 'copycat' products seem to be preferred and this, intriguingly, might be one of the deep-seated psychological reasons Apple's struggle with Samsung failed to pay off at the till: "Copied the iPhone, did they? I'll buy one then," seems to have been the response to the much-publicised lawsuits by at least some global users.

And, on the other side of the coin it might part-explain why the UI-differentiated Nokia Lumias have done far worse than cold analysis (and many analyst projections) says they should have done. In a now fashion-driven technology world that sliding-tile interace just wasn't going to sell because it looked nothing like the iPhone. Android did, and did.

But is it just a fashion thing? Not according the research. Professor Wang, a Professor of Marketing & Innovation at Warwick, says there appears to be some powerful psychological drivers at work.

"We found that the more similar a product’s attributes appear to be to their competitors, the more confident the consumers are with their choice. Apple and Samsung may be battling in the courts over patents and copyright infringements, but their customers actually like the fact that their devices have similar attributes."

The research was actually hunting for something called "similarity confusion" known to affect customer satisfaction when products - in supermarkets, say - all appear the same. What the researchers found instead was an increase in confidence not a turn-off.

"Not knowing the difference between brands with similar attributes may result in consumers simply transferring their confidence in one brand to another.” Hence perhaps the perplexing sales health for Samsung when it actually lost the court battle?

The study looked at smartphone users in two UK cities. The technology area was chosen because of the crowded market and because mobile phones "tend to have complex features, so consumers will often encounter very similar products in their decision-making and buying process."

Having too many products to choose from, referred to as 'choice overload’, is also a problem however.

“While having lots of choice is initially attractive to consumers as it is more likely to find them the best option, having too many choices demotivates the consumer from making a decision,” said Professor Wang.

“In addition, having too much information to digest or ambiguous information can also put consumers off. While many policymakers continuously ask companies to provide extra information to consumers, the findings suggest that such efforts may be counterproductive, cause confusion in consumers, reduce their overall choice confidence, and increase their anxiety and fear of choosing. Instead, policymakers should insist on information that is clear and relevant.”

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