10 Days of Christmas…Consumerism: Day 2

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Image from New York Times

Yesterday, we discussed how product contagion works. But other people can also change our impressions about products. These people can be celebrities used to promote a product by associating themselves with it, or they can be other consumers in the marketplace or salespeople you encounter. As always, our impressions as consumers are shaped by those around us.

In a particularly interesting line of research, experimenters found that people are far less likely to purchase products that other people have touched.1 In their study, participants were asked to find a salesperson in the university bookstore and purchase a particular shirt.1 The salesperson was a confederate (another experimenter posing as a civilian) who told participants one of 3 things: Another customer was currently trying on the only shirt, that the shirt was on the return rack outside of the dressing room or that the shirt was on a display in the store like all of the other merchandise.1 Results indicated that people who knew another person had just tried on the shirt were the least likely to buy the shirt, had the least positive evaluations of the shirt and had significantly higher feelings of disgust for the shirt.1 People who saw the shirt on the rack had more positive evaluations and were more likely to purchase the shirt.1 As with product contagion, the other person “rubbed off” on the product itself, altering participants’ evaluations. This same group of researchers found a caveat to this finding: people have slightly higher product evaluations if the person who touched the product was attractive.2

Other people can also affect shopping experiences through what one researcher dubbed “accidental interpersonal touching” incidents.3 This researcher found that shoppers who were accidentally touched by another customer while they were looking at a product had significantly more negative brand evaluations than participants who were not touched while evaluating the same product.3 The holiday season is certainly famous for this, so let’s all do the economy a favor and keep our hands and bodies to ourselves.

We can also “catch” positive moods from others, which increases positive product attitudes.4 This may be why people are swayed to buy clothing items when salespeople or other customers tell them how wonderful they look in it. However, the person you’re interacting with has to be liked, or the effect can actually backfire and decrease product evaluations.4

The mall is a veritable field experiment in consumer psychology, so stay on your toes and do the beleaguered sales associates and your fellow consumers a favor and stop touching everything.

  1. Argo, J. J., Dahl, D. W., & Morales, A. C. (2006). Consumer contamination: How consumers react to products touched by others. Journal of Marketing, 70(2), 81-94.
  2. Argo, J. J., Dahl, D. W., & Morales, A. C. (2008). Positive consumer contagion: responses to attractive others in a retail context. Journal of Marketing Research, 45(6), 690-701.
  3. Martin, B. A. (2012). A stranger’s touch: effects of accidental interpersonal touch on consumer evaluations and shopping time. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(1), 174-184.
  4. Howard, D. J., & Gengler, C. (2001). Emotional contagion effects on product attitudes. Journal of Consumer Research, 28(2), 189-201.
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