Comparing traditional and LLM-based search for consumer choice: A randomized experiment


Recent advances in the development of large language models (LLMs) are rapidly changing how online applications function. LLM-based search tools, for instance, offer a natural language interface that can accommodate complex queries and provide detailed, direct responses. At the same time, there have been concerns about the veracity of the information provided by LLM-based tools due to potential mistakes or fabrications that can arise in algorithmically generated text. In a set of online experiments we investigate how LLM-based search changes people’s behavior relative to traditional search, and what can be done to mitigate overreliance on LLM-based output. Participants in our experiments were asked to solve a series of decision tasks that involved researching and comparing different products, and were randomly assigned to do so with either an LLM-based search tool or a traditional search engine. In our first experiment, we find that participants using the LLM-based tool were able to complete their tasks more quickly, using fewer but more complex queries than those who used traditional search. Moreover, these participants reported a more satisfying experience with the LLM-based search tool. When the information presented by the LLM was reliable, participants using the tool made decisions with a comparable level of accuracy to those using traditional search, however we observed overreliance on incorrect information when the LLM erred. Our second experiment further investigated this issue by randomly assigning some users to see a simple color-coded highlighting scheme to alert them to potentially incorrect or misleading information in the LLM responses. Overall we find that this confidence-based highlighting substantially increases the rate at which users spot incorrect information, improving the accuracy of their overall decisions while leaving most other measures unaffected.