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The Influence of Cognitive Dissonance on Retail Product Returns

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Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to: Thomas L. Powers, Professor of Marketing, Department of Marketing, Industrial Distribution and Economics, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama 35294-4460 (tpowers@uab.edu).

ABSTRACT

Given the significant costs and customer service ramifications associated with the return of retail merchandise it is important to understand the underlying reasons for product returns. One such underlying reason is cognitive dissonance. Customers who experience cognitive dissonance may seek to undo the effects of a regretted choice by returning the product in question. This research examines the influence of two forms of cognitive dissonance (emotional dissonance and product dissonance) on the frequency of product returns. Three antecedents (consideration of liberal return policies, customer opportunism, and switching barriers) are examined in terms of their influence on cognitive dissonance and product returns. In addition, the moderating role of gender and store brand is reported. The research is based on a survey of Wal-Mart and Target customers who engaged in product returns. Structural equation modeling is used to verify and test these relationships. Emotional dissonance and product dissonance were found to be positively related to product returns frequency. It was found that consideration of liberal return policies reduces both emotional and product dissonance, while customer opportunism and switching barriers increase both dimensions of cognitive dissonance. Both gender and store brand were found to be significant moderators of the relationships between cognitive dissonance and two antecedents (consideration of liberal return policies and customer opportunism). In addition, gender and store brand moderated the linkage between product dissonance and emotional dissonance, and the linkage between emotional dissonance and return frequency.

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