Feeling happier when paying more: Dysfunctional counterfactual thinking in consumer affect

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Abstract

In this research the authors examine whether counterfactual thinking, the process of imagining alternatives to reality, can have a detrimental impact on consumers' feelings. Five studies examine the dysfunctional role of counterfactual thinking in the presence of Minimum Purchase Requirement conditional message framing (“X% off all purchases if you spend at least $Y”), and its affective consequences. Results show that the presence or absence of the minimum amount restriction (Studies 1A and 1B), success or failure to meet the restriction (Studies 2A and 2B), and perceived closeness (i.e., outcome proximity) to success or failure in meeting the restriction (Study 3), drastically influence consumer affect to the extent that participants receiving an inferior deal exhibited higher satisfaction than those receiving a superior deal. It is suggested that such promotion-induced counterfactual thinking polarizes consumer satisfaction, which may impede consumers from arriving at optimal conclusions. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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