Web retailers should tailor their ads according to consumers’ histories of making unintended purchases.
When people search for a product online, they are often tempted by items they didn’t intend to buy. Consumers who visit Amazon.com to buy a textbook for a class might get recommendations for other books or see ads promoting a new CD that’s being offered at a deep discount. They might give in to temptation and add the CD to their baskets. Or they might click on the CD, possibly even put it on a wish list, and then click away, having resisted.
Gita Johar and Anirban Mukhopadhyay investigated the emotional consequences of these two scenarios. Consumers who make an impulse purchase tend to feel happy that they bought something they wanted but guilty for spending money unnecessarily. Consumers who held back even though they were tempted by the product will feel regret for denying themselves something they desired but feel proud that they were able to resist.
In the short term, these emotional states affect consumers’ responses to the subsequent ads they see while shopping online, the researchers found. Consumers who made the unintended purchase respond better to ads that appeal to their happiness, whereas consumers who resisted respond better to ads that appeal to their sense of pride. This is because they misattribute their feelings of happiness or pride to the ad.
These emotional responses are tied to a key issue in consumer psychology: how consumers manage conflicting goals. Most consumers have a long-term goal of saving money but want to buy items that they didn’t intend to purchase. One goal must be sacrificed to further the other. Johar and Mukhopadhyay’s research identifies the specific emotions people feel when they are forced to make this choice.
You can tailor your ads to appeal to a customer’s emotional state. Most search engines and Web retailers monitor clickstream behavior, making it easy to tell if customers were tempted enough by a product to put it on a wish list or get more information but didn’t click to buy it. In that case, you’ll want to have your site show these customers, who are in the proud state, ads that enhance their sense of pride — such as an ad for a charity designed to appeal to their sense of worth, an ad for clothing that appeals to their pride in looking good or an ad for a book that appeals to their sense of self-esteem. For customers who made the purchase, you’ll want to have your site display ads that appeal to their sense of happiness.
Gita V. Johar (PhD NYU 1993; MBA Indian Institute of Management Calcutta 1985) has been on the faculty of Columbia Business School since 1992 and is currently the Meyer Feldberg Professor of Business. She served as the school’s Senior Vice Dean from 2011 to 2014, as the inaugural Vice Dean for...
Read the Research
Gita Johar, Anirban Mukhopadhyay
"Tempted or Not: The effect of Recent Purchase History on Responses to Affective Advertising"