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Eller College Home > Faculty and Research > Research Buzz > The Attribute Carryover Effect

Research Buzz

Merrie Brucks
Jesper Nielsen


  • consumer behavior
  • marketing
  • decision-making
  • carryover effect


The Attribute Carryover Effect

What the "Runner-Up" Option Tells Us About Consumer Choice Processes

Close second choices are an important consideration when a consumer makes a purchase decision and then learns that their selection is unavailable (out-of-stock, discontinued, just sold). 

In many cases, consumers cannot (or prefer not to) wait until their selected item becomes available. When this happens, consumers are likely to reconsider the options that are available now.

The obvious back-up plan would be to select the product that was a close-second (“the runner-up”). Yet, this research demonstrates that up to 60 percent of consumers may reject the runner-up product and instead select a lower rated (and previously rejected) item.

This happens because consumers are thinking about the features that the runner-up is lacking and they temporarily forget the features that were important to them when they first identified the runner-up product.

The authors call this phenomenon “the carryover effect.”  For consumers, the take-away is to trust your initial evaluations and be true to No. 2.


Wendy Attaya Boland is Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Kogod School of Business, American University. Merrie Brucks is the Eckert Professor of Marketing and Jesper Nielsen is Associate Professor of Marketing, both at the Eller College of Marketing, University of Arizona.

Publication Source

Published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 38, No. 5 (February) 2012.

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