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The Power of Social Influence on Consumerism

  Sep 16, 2016

It is difficult to conceptualize how mannerisms taught at childhood affect our behavior even as we grow up. It’s even more difficult to comprehend how these perceived innate habits grow into behaviors which inform our decision making processes. This transcends from simple concepts such as; touch or contact to exposed objects, to delight in association with a person of similar attributes, to the “cool team” effect, scarcity aggression and the social norm reinforcement. How then, do these concepts shape our consumerism behavior?

Putting perspective into consumerism behaviors and decision making processes, Professor Darren Dahl from the University of British Columbia, Sauder school of Business addressed members of the Alumni network during a guest speaker session dubbed,’ The Social Influence in Consumption- Understanding how Others Impact Us’. Here are some of the takeaways from professor Dahl’s research studies on social influence on consumption.

The Contagion Effect

The laws of contagion such as: Do not touch the hot stove or do not touch a dusty cardboard are some of the protection heuristics children are taught at a young age. These teachings are proven to be great determinants on how people perceive space, contact, privacy and even purchasing patterns.  Products or merchandise on the first line up of the display are less likely to be picked up by consumers. Although the standards and quality are the same, consumers would prefer products in the third or fourth column.  These products are perceived to be over exposed and hence “carry contagious germs.”

However, other factors such as- time, how long the product has been on the display and the type of people purchasing the product (attractiveness or perceived “cool”) may determine the consumption of the product as well.

The Similarity Affection

People want and are willing to connect with other people. Connection occurs at an instant, almost incidental. Studies have proven that people are more likely to connect with people, with whom they share similarities with. This can be as simple as a similar birthday date, hobbies, pet and even shared first letter in the names. Similarities make consumers comfortable with the sales representative as this gives them the general feeling of familiarity.

This however must be reinforced with a positive experience, as negative traits can repulse consumers even more, especially when there is a distinguished similarity.  To build a connection with consumers, one should not only depend on similarity, but also on reinforcing a positive experience.

Scarcity Aggression

Scarcity activates aggression. The threat caused by anxiety of other consumers attaining desired goods motivates consumers. Beyond mob effects that can be created, companies can prime consumers for aggression before they even get to the store.

Can Bad Service yield More Sales?

Aspiring consumers of a particular brand will pay more to associate with the brand despite receiving bad customer service, particularly in the case of luxury brands. Social rejection often works as a motivating force. However, this is also determined by the type of retailer, whether the customer is an aspiring client or a member of the group already and the salesperson’s representation of the brand. Consumers are vulnerable to social inclusion and social exclusion in the retail environment.

Norm Violation

People have expectations on adherence to social norms in consumption settings. Consumers will look at punishing violators if necessary or produce overall negative attitudes. Organisations have a responsibility to manage customer to customer interactions as people have expectations.

About Professor Darren Dahl

Darren is the Senior Associate Dean, Faculty and Research, and the BC Innovation Council Professor at the Sauder School of Business. He was appointed a 3M National Teaching Fellow in 2013 and is recognized globally for both his research and teaching excellence in marketing strategy, entrepreneurship, and creativity.

Darren was ranked as the #1 professor worldwide for marketing research by the American Marketing Association in 2015 and was the runner-up in The Economist magazine’s Business Professor of the Year in 2013. His research has been presented at numerous national and international conferences, and published in various texts and such journals as the Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Consumer Research, Management Science, and Journal of Consumer Psychology.

He is currently the associate editor of the Journal of Consumer Research and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Marketing, and the Journal of Consumer Psychology. He has consulted and organized education programs for a number of non-profit and for-profit organizations such as Cathay Pacific, Procter & Gamble, Xerox, General Electric, Vancouver Public Health, Teekay Shipping, Hagensborg Foods, Lulu Lemon Athletica, Earls Restaurants, BCLC, Agent Provocateur, Daehong Advertising – Korea, and LIC India. Darren received his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia.

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