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Search: An Expense or an Experience? Exploring the Influence of Search on Product Return Intentions


Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to: Todd J. Arnold, Raymond A. Young Chair and Associate Professor of Marketing, Spears School of Business, Department of Marketing, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078, USA (


Prepurchase information search may be viewed as an expense and/or an experience. The authors argue that theory is unclear in explaining the effect of each form of search on a consumer's ultimate product return intentions. Alternative hypotheses are developed in relation to core theory that predict inconsistent effects of search upon both product satisfaction and return intentions. Results ultimately suggest that a consumer's investment in search that is viewed as an expense weakens satisfaction with a product, while prompting return intentions. Conversely, search viewed as an experience heightens satisfaction and diminishes return intentions. Theoretical and managerial implications of the results are discussed.