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UB Researchers Develop Software Tool to Help Consumers Make Decisions on Everything from SUVs to Spouses

By Jacqueline Ghosen

Release Date: May 25, 2004

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Making purchasing and other decisions may be a little easier for consumers and decision makers, thanks to a new tool developed by researchers in the University at Buffalo School of Management.

Individuals and businesses needing help with difficult decisions can use a new software program, WEBAim, to help them make the choice that is right for them. The program was developed by Stanley Zionts, professor of Management Science and Systems, and Jingguo Wang, doctoral student.

"In today's complex world, most people need help making decisions, and WEBAim is designed for that purpose," say Zionts. "Because WEBAim users can indicate their preferences and determine which factors to consider when choosing products or services, our program will be able to identify which alternatives are best for them," he adds.

The program uses an economic/management concept of efficiency to compare products and asks users to specify their levels of aspiration. Zionts explains, "When comparing two products, if one product is at least as good as the other in all respects, the second product is said to be dominated or inferior and the first product is nondominated or superior."

In other words, a product that is designated by WEBAim as superior is at least as good in every respect as the inferior product and there is no reason to consider purchasing an inferior product.

"What makes WEBAim unique is that the users determine which factors are included in the analysis," Zionts points out. "They can evaluate products and services using their personal preferences, which may not correspond to more general comparisons or the preferences of others.

To study the usefulness of their program, the researchers used data from Consumer Reports magazine, evaluating all the products considered in the March 2004 issue, including carpet stain cleaners, digital SLR cameras, desktop computers, laptop computers, disposable diapers and cooking ranges. They expected to find that products would vary from one another and few would be inferior.

"We were surprised to discover that nearly 40 percent of products evaluated were inferior and, therefore, should not be purchased." Zionts says. "It may indicate that some important criteria were missing, or that subjective factors like brand preference or snob appeal were not considered.

For example, WEBAim indicates that one of the SONY rear projection televisions evaluated in the issue is inferior, but it may sell well because of the prestige (and perceived quality) that goes with the SONY name. But for consumers who don't believe that the SONY name is special, WEBAim can be used to tell them that if the price can be reduced by more than $200, the SONY television will no longer be inferior.

"The value of the program really comes into play as consumers refine their preferences and one or more criteria change in importance," says Zionts. "For example, a person using WEBAim to purchase an SUV might find that gas mileage is more important than he originally thought."

Zionts notes that the tool is more significant for big-ticket items and small-ticket items used in large quantities, but it can apply to virtually any decision, from renting an apartment to purchasing a laptop computer to selecting a spouse.

WEBAim can be helpful to purchasers, who can use the program to negotiate a lower price, as well as to manufacturers, who can respond by changing the perception of a product, lowering the price or, in the longer run, redesigning the product.

WEBAim currently is being tested in several areas and the researchers hope to make the online program available commercially.

The University at Buffalo School of Management is ranked as one of the world's top-50 business schools by The Wall Street Journal. It also has been cited by Business Week as one of the "best business schools" in America, and by Forbes for "best return on investment." For more information about the UB School of Management, visit http://www.mgt.buffalo.edu.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York.