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Unintended purchase opportunities: Conflict, choice, and consequence

Anirban Mukhopadhyay, 2004
Faculty Advisor: Gita Venkataramani Johar


Consumers spend substantial proportions of their expenditures on products they had not intended to buy. Correspondingly, marketers spend billions of dollars trying to influence purchase incidence. This dissertation investigates how decisions to either buy or not buy at an unintended purchase opportunity can affect responses to subsequent tempting offers. Integrating research across disciplines relevant to consumer self-control, it builds on the insight that purchase consists of the two related but independent activities of spending and acquisition, and proposes a conceptual model specific to unintended purchase. This model suggests that an unintended purchase opportunity may simultaneously cue both the goal served by acquiring and using the product, and the goal of not spending money unnecessarily. These goals may be in conflict, which necessarily leads to a choice to buy or not. This choice has consequences, cognitive and affective, which may then influence responses to subsequent unintended purchase opportunities. This model is tested across five experiments.

The first part of the dissertation, investigating the cognitive processes involved, finds that the justifiability of buying at an unintended purchase opportunity depends both on the decision at a prior opportunity and the type of product currently on offer, “virtue” or “vice”. Reasons for prior decisions influence responses to current offers, with high accessibility of past restraint inducing self-rewarding behavior. The second paper finds that complex affective outcomes combining happiness, pride, guilt, remorse, and anger result from decisions to either buy or not buy. These emotions influence responses to subsequent offers such that affect-consistent advertising appeals are more favorably evaluated.

This dissertation has three main contributions. The proposed justification mechanism explains observed intertemporal behavior patterns better than competing theories. The results on mixed emotions are also new in consumer psychology, and the fact that, endogenous to the purchase sequence, these can act as ambient mood at subsequent opportunities contributes to the mood congruence literature. Third, the demonstration that virtues may spur unintended purchase adds to the literature on impulsive consumption, which normally only studies vice-like products and behaviors. Managerially, this research has implications for promotions managers, distance marketers making sequences of consecutive offers, and sales managers.

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