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.

10 days of Christmas…Consumerism: Day 1

‘Tis the holiday season, and we all know what that means: the mecca of consumerism that is America will ring out with the song of overworked cash registers throughout the land. Anyone who has been anywhere near a mall in America in the month of December knows how incredibly unpleasant it is to be swarming all over shopping mall wares while other people are all up in your business. In honor of this time of cheer, materialism and accidental stranger touching, we present the 10 days of Christmas…Consumerism (What? You wanted 12? I had finals!).*

Product contagion is a well-studied topic in consumer behavior. Essentially, much like the way humans can catch a disease, products can “catch” qualities via associations with other products or people. The proximity of the products operates as the basic idea behind product contagion, i.e. a product that is located close to another product may take on some characteristics of that other product, and affect consumer perceptions. For instance, products that have an equal chance of gain, like a free sample, tend to be seen as higher value when they are clustered together, while products with an equal chance of loss, like defected products, are seen as less desirable when located close to other defective products.1

There has also been work on product contagion when the proximity is to a disgusting product. Researchers have found evidence that a product location next to a disgusting product can cause the non-disgusting product to “catch” disgusting qualities, especially when packaging is clear and regardless of whether or not the two products are physically touching.2 This association has proven to be long-lasting, with impressions of disgust permanently attaching themselves to the non-disgusting product.2 So, basically, the next time you really want the last of something at the grocery store but you can’t buy it right now, put it next to the adult diapers and you’re probably home free.

Keep shopping and come and see us tomorrow for consumer contamination. Talk about a bad touch.

*The Christmas reference in this title is being made by a born and bred atheist and purely for Google/seasonal reasons. No offense meant to anyone, and certainly no religious preferences here at SocialPsyQ!


  1. Mishra, A. (2009). Influence of contagious versus noncontagious product groupings on consumer preferences. Journal of Consumer Research, 36(1), 73-82.
  1. Morales, A. C., & Fitzsimons, G. J. (2007). Product contagion: Changing consumer evaluations through physical contact with “disgusting” products. Journal of Marketing Research, 44(2), 272-283.