Consumption Self Control by Rationing Purchase Quantities of Virtue and Vice

Wertenbroch, Klaus
December 1998
Marketing Science;1998, Vol. 17 Issue 4, p317
Academic Journal
Abstract Consumers' attempts to control their unwanted consumption impulses influence many everyday purchases with broad implications for marketers' pricing policies. Addressing theoreticians and practitioners alike, this paper uses multiple empirical methods to show that consumers voluntarily and strategically ration their purchase quantities of goods that are likely to be consumed on impulse and that therefore may pose self-control problems. For example, many regular smokers buy their cigarettes by the pack, although they could easily afford to buy 10-pack cartons. These smokers knowingly forgo sizable per-unit savings from quantity discounts, which they could realize if they bought cartons; by rationing their purchase quantities, they also self-impose additional transactions costs on marginal consumption, which makes excessive smoking overly difficult and costly.Such strategic self-imposition of constraints is intuitively appealing yet theoretically problematic. The marketing literature lacks operationalizations and empirical tests of such consumption self-control strategies and of their managerial implications. This paper provides experimental evidence of the operation of consumer self-control and empirically illustrates its direct implications for the pricing of consumer goods. Moreover, the paper develops a conceptual framework for the design of empirical tests of such self-imposed constraints on consumption in consumer goods markets. Within matched pairs of products, we distinguish relative "virtue" and "vice" goods whose preference ordering changes with whether consumers evaluate immediate or delayed consumption consequences. For example, ignoring long-term health effects, many smokers prefer regular (relative vice) to light (relative virtue) cigarettes, because they prefer the taste of the former. However, ignoring these short-term taste differences, the same smokers prefer light to regular cigarettes when they consider the long-term health effects of ...


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