Discrete Choice Experiment

Updated on January 5, 2024
Article byKhalid Ahmed
Edited byRaisa Ali
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is A Discrete Choice Experiment (DCE)?

A Discrete Choice Experiment (DCE) is a statistical technique used to extract preferences from participants regarding hypothetical alternative scenarios. It gauges the relative importance of attributes within imaginary choice sets, revealing participants’ willingness to pay for different attributes. 

Discrete Choice Experiment

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DCE offers crucial insights for marketing decisions, product design enhancement, and pricing strategies by combining three interrelated elements – choice experiment design, preference estimation, and decision support. It is widely applied in economics, transportation, healthcare, and marketing.

Key Takeaways

  • A discrete choice experiment (DCE) elicits preferences for hypothetical scenarios, assessing attribute importance and willingness to pay within choice sets.
  • It is used in various fields, including healthcare, transportation, environmental policy, product development, marketing, public policy, and consumer behavior.
  • It offers numerous benefits across various industries, but their design and implementation can be challenging and time-consuming.
  • It is a quantitative method for gathering participant preferences, while conjoint analysis is an advanced market research method for comprehending complex decision-making processes.

Discrete Choice Experiment Explained

A discrete choice experiment (DCE) is a preference elicitation method involving presenting respondents with multiple choices, each containing varying attributes. Drawing on three theories—standard microeconomic theory of the consumer, random utility theory (RUT), and Lancaster’s characteristics theory of demand—DCE is a trusted approach to enumerate preferences in healthcare.

Respondents assess choice sets featuring hypothetical services or products by assigning preferences based on defined attributes and levels. The DCE implementation involves identifying characteristics, structuring the study, drafting questionnaires, conducting pilot tests, determining sample size, gathering and organizing information, econometric analysis, validating results, and interpretation.

As an ordinal method, DCE reduces measurement error and cognitive burden, enhancing survey simplicity compared to cardinal methods. Its implications extend to quantifying relative attribute importance, willingness to pay, and informing product design, pricing, and marketing strategies. Widely used in many industries, DCE plays a significant role in understanding preferences and decision-making processes in the financial world.

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Let’s check out a few examples:

Example #1

A discrete choice experiment example can be found in the financial sector to investigate investor preferences for different financial products. In this scenario, participants would encounter hypothetical situations with unique attributes such as risk level, expected returns, and liquidity. Financial institutions can glean valuable insights into the specific features that investors prioritize by analyzing their choices. This information is instrumental in developing investment products that align closely with customer preferences.

Example #2

Discrete choice experiments can be effectively utilized to gauge consumer preferences regarding various taxation policies. Respondents would be presented with alternative tax structures, each possessing distinct attributes such as income brackets, deduction options, and overall tax rates. Examining the choices made by participants offers policymakers crucial insights into public preferences. This information can then be used to inform the design of tax policies that better align with the societal needs and preferences of the population.


Discrete choice experiments are versatile tools with applications across diverse fields, providing valuable insights into human preferences. Key areas where DCEs find extensive use include:

  • Healthcare: Informing policy decisions and evaluating the value of medical treatments, products, and services by uncovering preferences.
  • Transportation: Contributing to creating user-friendly systems by determining preferences for transportation infrastructure and modes.
  • Environmental Policy: Aiding in developing environmental policies by understanding climate change mitigation and environmental improvement preferences.
  • Product Development: Facilitating product development by revealing preferences for new items and their features.
  • Marketing: Assisting marketers in determining consumer preferences for campaigns, brands, and price points through comprehensive insights.
  • Public Policy: Evaluating preferences for various public policies, including taxes, education, and crime prevention.
  • Consumer Behavior: Tracking customer sentiments about various goods and services, such as housing, transportation, and food.

Advantages And Disadvantages

Some of the important advantages and disadvantages are the following:


  • Versatile Applications: DCEs find applications across various industries, showcasing their adaptability.
  • Willingness to Pay Insights: Provide valuable insights into individuals’ willingness to pay for specific attributes or qualities.
  • Realistic Decision-Making Simulation: Mimic actual decision-making situations and enhancing the realism of participant responses.
  • Informative for Policy Decisions: Inform and contribute to policy formulation and decision-making processes.


  • Complex Design and Implementation: Designing and implementing DCEs can be challenging and time-consuming.
  • Impact of Question Wording and Design: The wording of questions and the experiment’s design can significantly influence DCE outcomes.
  • Incomplete Reflection of Real-World Complexity: DCEs may not capture every element that influences decisions in the real world.
  • Feasibility Constraints: Feasibility limitations may arise in some circumstances, restricting the applicability of DCEs.

Discrete Choice Experiment vs Conjoint Analysis

Conjoint analysis and DCE are both helpful techniques for getting participants’ preferences for speculative alternative scenarios. However, there are certain differences between the two, as shown in the table below:

Discrete choice experiment (DCE)Conjoint analysis
Quantitative method for eliciting preferences.Advanced market research method for understanding complex decision-making.
Based on random utility theory.Based on the compensatory theory of choice.
Extracting preferences regarding hypothetical scenarios.Understanding complex options.
Participants select among options with different attributes.Profiles related to services or products ranked or rated.
Makes scenarios from levels and attributes.Values assessed for separately presented attributes.
Applied in healthcare, consumer behavior, marketing, development, complex interventions, and financial products.Used in product development, marketing, and pricing.
Reduces cognitive burden compared to the cardinal method.Creates cognitive difficulty for participants.
Limited information on attribute interaction.Explains how attributes interact.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the importance of a discrete choice experiment?

The importance of the Discrete Choice Experiment (DCE) lies in its ability to provide valuable insights into human preferences and decision-making processes. DCEs are crucial for understanding how individuals make choices among alternative scenarios, shedding light on their preferences, priorities, and the relative importance of different attributes.

What are the factors influencing financial decision-making with DCE?

Several factors influence financial decision-making in Discrete Choice Experiments. These include determining critical factors shaping investment choices, tailoring financial services to meet specific investor demands, assessing costs associated with financial products, evaluating the success of marketing initiatives, and developing financial regulations to protect investors’ interests.

What is the discrete choice experiment in health policy?

Discrete Choice Experiment (DCE) plays a pivotal role in health policy by evaluating preferences and values regarding healthcare services and policies. DCEs help policymakers understand the trade-offs individuals are willing to make regarding healthcare options, allowing for informed decision-making in policy formulation and resource allocation. This methodology is instrumental in shaping policies that align with the preferences and needs of the population.

This article has been a guide to what is Discrete Choice Experiment. We explain its examples, comparison with conjoint analysis, applications, and advantages. You may also find some useful articles here –

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