Goal-Relevant Versus Incidental Similarity When Choosing Between Multiple Service Providers

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Jiang, Hoegg, Dahl, and Chattopadhyay (2009) demonstrated that customers prefer a service provider who shares incidental similarity, such as having the same birthday. However, customers often choose from multiple service providers simultaneously. It is unclear which specific shared characteristics will influence choice in any given buying situation. Although all similarity may lead to a personal connection, goal-relevant similarity also provides diagnostic information that is related to customer buying goals while incidental similarity does not. This research consists of four experimental studies that demonstrate specific benefits and limitations of incidental similarity. When there are multiple service providers, customers will prefer providers with goal-relevant similarity over incidental similarity. However, when customers share goal-relevant similarity with multiple providers, customers then use incidental similarity to further narrow down their choice. Finally, characteristics are not inherently “goal-relevant” or “incidental,” but rather vary based on customer buying need and situational factors.

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Journal of Business Research

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