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To buy or not to buy: What you decide affects how you’ll feel next time


Consumers spend substantial proportions of their expenditures on products they had not intended to buy. Correspondingly, marketers spend billions of dollars every year trying to create moments of purchase serendipity. But how do consumers feel after they’ve been confronted with temptation? A new article from the Journal of Consumer Research investigates the mixed emotions that result from unexpected shopping opportunities – such as surprise sales – and explores whether these emotions affect our response to tempting offers in the future.

“We propose that seeing an attractive product that one had not intended to buy can simultaneously evoke two conflicting goals – the goal that may be achieved by acquiring and using the product, and also the goal of not spending one’s money unnecessarily,” write Anirban Mukhopadhyay (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) and Gita Johar (Columbia University).

The researchers found that how consumers felt after stumbling upon an unexpected sale depended on what they decided to do. People felt happy and a little guilty when they bought the item. When they resisted the impulse purchase, they were proud. Across experiments, this finding did not appear to depend on the nature of the products or sale.

The researchers then explored how these emotions might play out across purchase opportunities. Would emotions spill over to unrelated, subsequent marketing campaigns? Again, the researchers found that this depended on whether the consumer had given in or resisted the purchase.

“In general, those who had chosen to buy responded better to happiness appeals, while those who had chosen not to buy preferred pride appeals,” explain the researchers. “Essentially, this research suggests that if as a marketer you know what your customer has just done, you have a better idea as to how they’re feeling, and provides guidelines on how to tailor your approach.”

Interestingly, the researchers found that if the happiness resulting from the purchase was accompanied by feelings of pride from having saved a lot of money, then both types of ads were equally liked. Turns out everyone loves a great deal.


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