Digitalization and distribution in consumer decision making.

Authors: Denegri-Knott, J.

Conference: Digitalization of Markets and Consumption

Dates: 17-19 May 2017


Digital devices like smart phones and tablets are ubiquitous agents of information for consumer decision making (Deloitte 2012, Econsultance 2012). Industry forecasts see the smartphone displacing in-store staff and other sources of information in consumer decision making and report an upward trend in their use for information acquisition and product comparisons (Deloitte 2012). These digital agents appear to have amplified information points beyond traditional marketing stimuli and word of mouth to include online expert reviews, social recommendations, apps and price comparison sites which allow for complex comparisons between products and services (Brynjolfsson et al., 2013). Beyond their instrumental use in allowing price comparisons, digital devices are often enlisted to carry a plethora of consumption-orientated or supported projects. Consumers are dreaming out load and collectively on Pinterest, honing their hobbies by watching cooking or woodworking channels on YouTube or developing their sense of fashion reading advice found on discussion boards and blogs. As a result, the ecology of possible information sources available about things to buy and do has become much larger and more complex.

Like shopping carts, magazines, catalogues and other sources of information used in decision making- the digital device in hand when ‘shopping around' or ‘looking for inspiration’, provokes questions about their role in how decision making is done. Frank Cochoy (2008) has highlighted this significance in his study of the humble shopping cart and illustrated very convincingly how a simple consumer tool transforms the individual consumer into a collective cluster made up of limbs, handbags, shopping lists, calculators and the trolley itself. This cluster, as he shows, changes shopping from a rational, individual exercise to a volumetric, social, negotiated practice. If the shopping cart as Cochoy (2008) has alerted us can modify how consumers make their choices, then what role do digital devices have? A productive way to understand such relationship is to approach both consumers and devices as being coupled into a larger functioning cognitive system where decision making is distributed socially and materially. This can be done by adopting an active externalist standpoint. Active externalism is a branchof cognitive philosophy that recognises the active role of the environment in driving cognitive processes (Clark, 1997; Clark and Chalmers 1998, Menary, 2001). In particular, two related frameworks, Distributed Cognition (Hutchins, 1995; Kirsh, 2006) and Extended Mind (Clark, 1997; Clark and Chalmers, 1998) can be used to help account for how decision making is temporally distributed across multiple individuals, devices and other resources in the environment. ‘mind ware upgrades’ (Clark, 2003) operating within a larger cognitive system. It also helps mount a critique against field and root metaphor assumptions in decision making scholarship. Classical decision making models (e.g. Miniard et al. 1990, Howard and Sheth, 1969) and their more contemporary offshoots are all underpinned by a model of cognition that is rooted in a conception of an intracranial, individual mind. Put differently, cognitive decision making processes unfold only in the individual, biological brain. Such approaches assume that there is a gulf between cognitive processing and external sources that is abridged via internal symbolic representations and severs the process from its cultural and material setting (see for a critique Hollan et al. 2000, Hutchins, 1995). Emphasis thereby has been placed on understanding the ways in which individual cognition drives attitude formation and decision making.

Source: Manual