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Consumer Intentions

Part 3. Consumer Behavior

  1. Richard P. Bagozzi

Published Online: 15 DEC 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9781444316568.wiem03057

Wiley International Encyclopedia of Marketing

Wiley International Encyclopedia of Marketing

How to Cite

Bagozzi, R. P. 2010. Consumer Intentions. Wiley International Encyclopedia of Marketing. 3.

Author Information

  1. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2010

An intention has been defined as a person's commitment, plan, or decision to carry out an action or achieve a goal (Eagly and Chaiken, 1993), and in fact has been used synonymously at times with choice, decision, and plan. All these usages more generally fall under the label volition. Psychologist Ajzen (1991, p. 181) conceives of intentions rather broadly as “indicators of how hard people are willing to try, of how much of an effort they are planning to exert.” This definition seems too broad in that it encompasses (i) motivation, which is better construed as an antecedent of intention and (ii) planning, which constitutes a mental activity or process that often occurs after one forms an intention to pursue a goal or perform an action.

The need for a narrower definition of intention can be seen in Lewin's (1951, pp. 95–96) specification of the role of volition in action: “[A] complete intentional action is conceived as follows: Its first phase is a motivational process, whether a brief or a protected vigorous struggle of motives; the second phase is an [mental] act of choice, decision, or intention, terminating this struggle; the third phase is the consummatory intentional action itself.” This clearly differentiates intention from motivation and action and situates it between these concepts: motivation[RIGHTWARDS ARROW]intention[RIGHTWARDS ARROW]action.

The most common type of intention is the personal or I-intention to pursue a goal or perform an action by oneself. Notice that one can have an intention to pursue a goal, accomplish an end, or produce an outcome (“I intend to lose body weight”) or an intention to execute an act (“I intend to buy a new LED television”). Both goal intentions and action intentions can be expressed noncontingently, as phased above, or contingently (e.g., “I intend to buy a new LED television, as soon as the price drops below $3000”).

Gollwitzer proposed an important kind of intention, which he termed, implementation intentions (e.g., Gollwitzer and Brandstätter, 1997). These involve planning when, where, and how to act. Typically, a gap in time, often significant, exists between intention formation and behavioral execution. Implementation intentions serve cognitively to provide mental representations of opportunities to act and volitionally “create strong mental links between intended situations and behavior” and “in the presence of the critical situation, the intended behavior will be elicited automatically” (Gollwitzer and Brandstätter, 1997, p. 196). Thus one's intention to buy milk at the end of the day, made in the morning before work begins, may be recalled by the sight of a favorite store that one passes while returning home from work and enacted straight away. Because intentions frequently form first and lead to planning, many researchers might prefer to term “implementation intentions,” planning, to allow for separate mental states and processes in this regard.

Intentions might lead directly to action straight away or after a gap in time. But they also have been shown to differ in degree of well-formedness and to be moderated in their effects by level of effort required in action execution and by correspondence or independence between goal commitment and planning. Further, various mediators may occur between intentions and behavior, such as the need to deal with temptations, impediments, weakness-of-will, and monitoring progress in goal pursuit. For a review of moderators and mediators of the intention-action linkage, see Bagozzi (2006a, p. 19ff).

A common role for intentions in so-called goal-directed action is to bridge desires and their downstream effects. The consumer core captures this role of intentions and can be expressed as follows: goal desire[RIGHTWARDS ARROW]goal intention[RIGHTWARDS ARROW]action desire[RIGHTWARDS ARROW]action intention[RIGHTWARDS ARROW]action (see Bagozzi, 2006b). An important way that self-regulation occurs is in the management of the desire-to-intention links sketched above (see Bagozzi, 2006a, 2006b). Here desires are modulated through the imposition of personal standards of conduct, ethics, or moral imperatives. (see also Self-Regulation; Consumer Desire).

Recently the meaning of intentions has been expanded to include shared or collective intentions (Bagozzi, 2000, 2005). Thus, for example, persons in an intimate relationship might speak of “our intention to see Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake”; a football player may mention “the team's plan to implement a new defensive scheme”; corporation spokespersons might announce “the firm's hostile intention to take over another firm”; and the President of a country might remark that “our people intend to eliminate poverty by 2020.” These examples – referring, respectively, to a two-person dyad, a small group, an organization, and a collectivity – illustrate that people often use social notions of intentions in ordinary speech, whether referring to informal or formal groups.

There are two types of collective intentions. One is a personal intention to do something with a group of people or contribute to, or do one's part of a group activity (e.g., “I intend to prepare the holiday dinner with my sisters”). Notice that a person can have an intention to act as an actor, yet the action can be self-construed as an individual act performed alone (an I-intention to do an individual act by oneself) or as a member of a group (an I-intention to do one's part of a group act). The latter is one type of collective action.

A qualitatively different form of a collective intention is what might be called a we-intention. A we-intention is a collective intention rooted in a person's self-conception as a member of a particular group (e.g., an organization or institution) or social category (e.g., one's gender or one's ethnicity), and action is conceived as either the group acting or the person acting as an agent of, or with, the group. A we-intention can be expressed in two forms: a shared we-intention articulated in the form of “I intend that our group/we act” (e.g., “I intend that our family visit Sea World, San Diego, next vacation”) or a communal we-intention explicated in the form, “We (i.e., “I and the group to which I belong”) intend to act” (e.g., “We intend to sponsor an exchange student in our home next year”). Collective intentions open up new avenues for exploring consumer behavior and are grounded in plural subject theory (Bagozzi, 2000, 2005).

Traditionally, such psychological determinants of behavior as attitudes, motives, emotions, values, felt social pressure, self-efficacy, and perceived behavioral control have been conceived to work through intentions to influence behavior. More recently desires have been considered to be proximal causes of intentions, channeling the effects of multiple psychological determinants (see consumer desires in this volume).


  1. Top of page
  2. Bibliography
  • Ajzen, I. (1991) The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179211.
  • Bagozzi, R.P. (2000) On the concept of intentional social action in consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 27, 388396.
  • Bagozzi, R.P. (2005) Socializing marketing. Marketing: Journal of Research in Management, 1, 101110.
  • Bagozzi, R.P. (2006a) Consumer action: automaticity, purposiveness, and self-regulation, in Review of Marketing Research (ed. N.K. Malhotra) Sharpe, Armonk, pp. 342.
  • Bagozzi, R.P. (2006b) Explaining consumer behavior and consumer action: from fragmentation to unity. Seoul Journal of Business, 12, 111143.
  • Eagly, A.H. and Chaiken, S. (1993) The Psychology of Attitudes, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Fort Worth.
  • Lewin, K. (1951) Field theory in social science, Harper and Row, New York.
  • Gollwitzer, P.M. and Brandstätter, V. (1997) Implementation intentions and effective goal pursuit. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 186199.