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Journal of Retailing 88 (1, 2012) 63–71

The Role of Price in the Behavior and Purchase Decisions of


Compulsive Buyers
Monika Kukar-Kinney a,∗ , Nancy M. Ridgway a,1 , Kent B. Monroe a,b,2
a Department of Marketing, Robins School of Business, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA 23173, United States
b University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, United States

Abstract
The present research examines the relationship between consumers’ tendencies to buy compulsively and their response to price based on a survey
of customers of an Internet clothing retailer. The research findings suggest that compulsive buyers possess greater knowledge of store prices and are
more brand conscious and prestige sensitive in comparison with non-compulsive buyers. Moreover, compulsive buyers derive greater transaction
value from price promotions and are more price conscious and sale prone than non-compulsive buyers.
© 2011 New York University. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Compulsive buying; Price knowledge; Price consciousness; Brand preferences; Purchase behavior

Compulsive buying has been of interest to consumer Drawing on previous research on compulsive buying, we first
researchers and public policy advocates in the U.S. and other outline some of the broad characteristics of compulsive buyers.
developed countries for over two decades (Hirschman 1992; First, the behavior is more likely to affect women than men
Koran et al. 2006; Müller and de Zwaan 2004; Neuner, Raab, since it has been estimated that 80–92 percent of compulsive
and Reisch 2005; O’Guinn and Faber 1989). Compulsive buy- buyers are women (Black 1996; Faber et al. 1995; Faber and
ing is defined as a consumer’s tendency to be preoccupied with O’Guinn 1989). Second, although there is some historical evi-
buying that is revealed through repetitive buying and a lack dence of compulsive buying occurring in the early 1900s, the
of impulse control over buying (Ridgway, Kukar-Kinney, and documentation of this phenomenon appears to be more recent
Monroe 2008). This definition is based on an emerging theoreti- (Faber 1992). Some researchers believe this recent appearance of
cal foundation called obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorder compulsive buying may be related to an increased emphasis on
which considers compulsive buying as exhibiting elements and availability of material possessions in our consumer culture
of both obsessive-compulsive and impulse-control disorders (Richins and Dawson 1992; Hirschman 1992). Third, consumer
(Hollander and Allen 2006; Hollander and Dell’Osso 2005; behavior researchers believe that products are used by people
McElroy, Phillips, and Keck 1994). The rationale for classifying to define “who we are” (Belk 1988; Krueger 1988; Hirschman
compulsive buying as an obsessive-compulsive spectrum disor- 1995). Thus, an addiction to buying products may be a search for
der is that, like obsessive-compulsive disorder, the consumers’ one’s self much more than other compulsive behaviors, such as
thoughts are preoccupied with buying and repetitive buying gambling, drinking, under- or over-eating, or drug abuse (Belk
behavior is performed to reduce anxiety (McElroy, Phillips, 1988; Friese 2000).
and Keck 1994). Moreover, like impulse-control disorder, these Previous research has found a consistent relationship
consumers lack control over the urge to buy. between compulsive buying and other factors, such as
low self-esteem, materialism, impulsiveness, loneliness, and
obsessive-compulsive disorder (Faber and O’Guinn 1992). Also,
compulsive buyers are more likely to spend more than they
∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 804 287 1880; fax: +1 804 289 8878. can afford and experience credit card difficulties (Roberts and
E-mail addresses: mkukarki@richmond.edu (M. Kukar-Kinney), Jones 2002). Finally, compulsive buyers are more likely than
nridgway@richmond.edu (N.M. Ridgway), kentmonroe@verizon.net
(K.B. Monroe).
other buyers to experience shame or guilt associated with their
1 Tel.: +1 804 287 6311; fax: +1 804 289 8878. purchases, hide their purchase and shopping activities from oth-
2 Tel.: +1 804 716 2395. ers (Ridgway, Kukar-Kinney, and Monroe 2008), and return

0022-4359/$ – see front matter © 2011 New York University. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.jretai.2011.02.004
64 M. Kukar-Kinney et al. / Journal of Retailing 88 (1, 2012) 63–71

recently purchased products back to stores (Hassay and Smith higher price. For example, when buyers are uncertain as to the
1996). quality or benefits they might receive from the acquisition of the
There remain several gaps in the compulsive buying research product or service, price may also be used to infer what they will
literature. Although buying necessarily involves paying a price, gain when purchasing the higher priced product or service. In
no research to date has examined the role of price in the purchase this context, price plays a positive role. We use the conceptual-
decisions and behaviors of these heavy spenders. For example, ization of price in either negative or positive roles to develop the
are compulsive buyers knowledgeable of store prices due to their hypotheses of how price may influence the shopping and buy-
frequent shopping and buying? Are they more likely to infer ing behaviors of consumers with a tendency to buy compulsively
quality on the basis of price or brand name? Or, are they more relative to non-compulsive buyers.
price conscious? Also, are they more likely to respond to sale and
price promotions relative to non-compulsive buyers? While the The negative role of price
role of price in influencing consumer behavior has been studied
in multiple ways, nevertheless, how it influences a segment of As indicated above, price serves as an indicator of what buy-
buyers who buy compulsively has not been studied. ers must give up to acquire a product. Consequently, the higher
Understanding how compulsive buyers process price infor- the price of a product, ceteris paribus, the less likely would a
mation and respond to prices is important, because these consumer purchase the product. In this sense there is a negative
consumers are vulnerable to shopping triggers and are heav- relationship between price and willingness to buy.
ily dependent on their buying activities. Their out-of-control Two underlying premises of the economic perspective of
buying may lead them to experience financial difficulties, even price are that buyers seek to minimize the price paid (what
bankruptcy, as well as severe negative emotions and extensive they give up) and that they are knowledgeable about prices and
family arguments (Ridgway, Kukar-Kinney, and Monroe 2008). where to locate the lowest prices. Price consciousness refers to
If our findings indicate that compulsive buyers do not focus much the extent that buyers focus on searching for and paying a low
on price when buying, this may be an area of concern, since non- price for the product or service (Lichtenstein, Bloch, and Black
attention to price could result in these consumers spending even 1988; Lichtenstein, Ridgway, and Netemeyer 1993). For price
more than necessary on their purchases. Similarly, if sale signs conscious consumers, obtaining a low price for the chosen prod-
spur buying sprees by these consumers, this would also be of uct is more important than for non-price conscious consumers.
concern as these consumers may suffer financial harm due to They also tend to engage in higher levels of price comparisons
the additional spending. than less price conscious consumers (Alford and Biswas 2002).
The goal of the present research is to determine how compul- Compulsive buyers have been found to experience nega-
sive buyers perceive and react to prices and price promotions, tive feelings, such as guilt, shame or remorse after buying
and compare their responses to reactions of non-compulsive (Christenson et al. 1994; Faber and O’Guinn 1992). Their over-
buyers. Based on prior behavioral pricing research, several buying also often leads to negative financial consequences, such
important price-related constructs are identified. Our research as high credit card debt (Faber and O’Guinn 1992). Because of
findings suggest that compulsive buyers possess greater knowl- financial as well as social implications of their buying behav-
edge of store prices and are more brand conscious and prestige ior, compulsive buyers feel the need to alleviate their feelings
sensitive in comparison with non-compulsive buyers. Moreover, of guilt and regret and make themselves feel better about their
compulsive buyers derive greater transaction value from price frequent buying. By focusing on paying a low price for a specific
promotions and are more price conscious and sale prone. product, they may be able to rationalize their purchase behavior
Next, we describe the conceptual framework and develop to themselves and to others (e.g., “I bought this at the lowest
the hypotheses about differences in consumer responses to price available.” Or, “I got this on deal.”). Low prices may also
price between compulsive and non-compulsive buyers. We then further enable them to experience greater hedonic benefits of
describe how we tested the hypotheses. Finally, we present the shopping (Jin, Sternquist, and Koh 2003). Hence, we propose
findings and discuss the contributions and implications of this that compulsive buyers will focus on paying low prices for their
research. selected purchases to a greater extent than non-compulsive buy-
ers, and consequently will be more likely to exhibit a higher
Conceptual framework level of price consciousness.
H1. Compulsive buyers are more likely to be price conscious
One important result of research on the role of price in influ-
than non-compulsive buyers.
encing consumers’ perceptions and purchase behaviors is the
recognition that price plays a dual role in the way it influences We define store price knowledge as consumers’ subjective
consumer behavior (Lichtenstein, Ridgway, and Netemeyer estimates of their awareness of the level of store prices across
1993; Monroe 2003). In the traditional economic sense, price different stores. Previous research is unclear about how much
indicates the amount of money that buyers must give up to buyers, in general, are aware and knowledgeable of prices in the
acquire the specific product or service. If it serves as an indi- stores and across stores (Monroe 2003; Vanhuele and Dreze
cator of monetary sacrifice, price is playing a negative role. 2002). Similarly as product experience (such as ownership,
However, some buyers consider a higher price to be positive usage and information search) affects product knowledge, it has
when they believe that they are gaining something by paying a been suggested that the more consumers are exposed to prices,
M. Kukar-Kinney et al. / Journal of Retailing 88 (1, 2012) 63–71 65

the more likely their store price knowledge (both subjective and Transaction value refers to the psychological satisfaction or
objective) will increase (Mägi and Julander 2005; Ofir et al. pleasure obtained from taking advantage of the financial terms
2008). Exposure to prices can take place in a variety of ways, of a deal (Grewal, Monroe, and Krishnan 1998). We propose
such as in the store itself, reading through stores’ ads, flyers, and that compulsive buyers will perceive greater transaction value
catalogs, or shopping on a store’s website. from obtaining a good deal on their purchase in comparison with
One of the characteristics of consumers who exhibit high non-compulsive buyers. Because of their focus on obtaining low
compulsive buying tendency is their greater frequency of shop- prices and their tendency to respond to sales and promotion,
ping and buying as well as spending more on their purchases obtaining a good deal should be important to them. In addition,
in comparison with consumers with lower compulsive buying a key characteristic of compulsive buyers is that they strive to
tendencies (Kukar-Kinney, Ridgway, and Monroe 2009). Due experience positive feelings that the purchase process can elicit
to their frequent and extensive shopping and buying episodes, in them. Compulsive buyers love the act of buying and for a
compulsive buyers should be able to accumulate greater expo- period of time (usually short-lived) buying makes them happy
sure to price information and become more knowledgeable (Aboujaoude, Gamel, and Koran 2003). In fact, some compul-
about stores’ prices in comparison with non-compulsive buy- sive buyers experience a “high” when buying. Obtaining a good
ers over time. In addition, because of their extensive shopping financial deal may even heighten this “high”. Another reason
experience, they should also consider themselves to be more is that a good financial deal can provide compulsive buyers an
knowledgeable than non-compulsive buyers. Hence, we propose excuse to buy, allowing them to quickly satisfy their urge to
that: buy, while at the same time reducing the strong feelings of guilt
that are often experienced after purchases (Faber and O’Guinn
H2. Compulsive buyers will exhibit a higher level of store price 1992). Finally, the value of completing the transaction should
knowledge than non-compulsive buyers. be greater for compulsive buyers, as their focus is on actually
buying, rather than just shopping. Therefore:
One of the methods that sellers use to reduce buyers’ per-
ceptions of the sacrifice associated with a purchase is to reduce H4. Compulsive buyers will perceive the transaction value
the price, either through a sale or a special promotion (e.g., buy from a price promotion to be greater in comparison with non-
one, get one free). An important issue is whether compulsive compulsive buyers.
buyers are susceptible to such price promotions. To address this
issue, two questions are relevant. First, are compulsive buyers The positive role of price
more or less susceptible than non-compulsive buyers to sales
and bargains? Second, do they derive more value from taking Before making a purchase decision, consumers may need to
advantage of these opportunities? invest time and effort into obtaining sufficient information to
Sale proneness is defined as an increased propensity to perform a careful and deliberative evaluation of the product, its
respond to a purchase offer for a lower price because of the sale benefits, and alternatives. When not enough time is available or
form in which the price is presented (Lichtenstein, Ridgway, when motivation to carefully evaluate is low, consumers may
and Netemeyer 1993). Sale signs tend to attract the attention of rely on heuristics to guide them in the decision making process.
shoppers (Inman, McAlister, and Hoyer 1990) and Lichtenstein, For example, consumers may use price as an indicator of quality
Ridgway, and Netemeyer (1993) suggest that sale-prone con- or benefits—known as the price-quality heuristic. When price
sumers are more likely to perceive a higher value when the is used in this role, there will be a positive relationship between
purchase price is presented in a sale form compared to an equiv- price on one hand and perceived value, purchase intentions and
alent price not presented in a sale form. choice on the other hand. It has been shown that consumers are
Compulsive buyers may reward themselves for finding a sale more likely to use the price-quality heuristic in situations when
(while not necessarily intentionally looking for one) by purchas- they do not have sufficient time to evaluate alternatives or when
ing more or more frequently than non-compulsive buyers. The they do not have sufficient knowledge to judge quality (Rao and
sale should provide them with an excuse to buy, and at the same Monroe 1988; Suri and Monroe 2003).
time alleviate feelings of guilt associated with buying (Faber and Compulsive buyers are experienced shoppers who have been
O’Guinn 1992), as the product is obtained at a reduced price. able to accumulate extensive product knowledge over the course
Moreover, obtaining a sale price on a desired product may be of their frequent buying trips (Kukar-Kinney, Ridgway, and
a source of additional excitement and enjoyment for these con- Monroe 2009). As such, they should have sufficient knowledge
sumers, allowing them to achieve enhanced hedonic benefits of to evaluate the quality of the product in a timely manner without
finding a sale. As discussed before, experiencing positive feel- having to spend substantial effort to reach the purchase decision.
ings during the purchase process is crucial to compulsive buyers Therefore, being relatively more knowledgeable, compulsive
(O’Guinn and Faber 1989). Therefore, we would expect that buyers should not need to rely on the price as an indicator of
compulsive buyers will be more likely to respond to a sale offer quality as much as the less experienced non-compulsive buyers
by purchasing in comparison with non-compulsive buyers. (Ofir et al. 2008; Rao and Monroe 1988). Consequently, we pro-
pose that compulsive buyers will be less likely to rely on price as
H3. Compulsive buyers are more likely to be sale prone than an indicator of quality, in comparison to non-compulsive buyers.
non-compulsive buyers. Hence,
66 M. Kukar-Kinney et al. / Journal of Retailing 88 (1, 2012) 63–71

H5. Compulsive buyers are less likely to infer quality on the to the survey. After accounting for bounce-back messages from
basis of price than non-compulsive buyers. this initial mailing, an invitation to participate with the link to the
survey was sent to 1,310 customers. Technical problems reduced
Prestige sensitivity is the extent of a buyer’s feelings and
the final number of potential respondents to 1,294. From this
beliefs that high-priced products signal to others the buyer’s
potential set, 314 responded to the survey, resulting in a response
high level of prestige and status (Lichtenstein, Ridgway, and
rate of 24.3 percent. The responding sample consisted of 98.5
Netemeyer 1993). Compulsive buyers have been found to have
percent women, 63 percent of the respondents were married,
lower self-esteem than other consumers (d’Astous 1990; Dittmar
their average age was 53 years (range 28–75 years), and average
and Drury 2000; Faber and O’Guinn 1992). Consumers with
household income was $82,000. The sample was reflective of the
feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem may attempt to
consumer segment most afflicted with problems of compulsive
compensate to make themselves feel more worthy. One way
and compulsive buying (i.e., adult women).
to temporarily enhance their self-esteem is to buy things for
The respondents received a choice of a $10-reward or free
themselves. Because of their lower self-esteem, most female
shipping on their next order (value up to $24.95) from the
compulsive buyers tend to buy clothing and accessories pri-
retailer. The survey contained questions about general shopping
marily for themselves to boost their self-esteem and enhance
and buying behavior including measures of compulsive buying
their self-image to a greater degree than non-compulsive buyers
and their response to price, questions about individual consumer
(Benson 2000; McElroy, Phillips, and Keck 1994). For example,
characteristics, and demographic questions. In addition, some
research indicates a positive relationship between compulsive
questions about consumers’ evaluations of various aspects of
buying tendency and fashion interest (Park and Burns 2005).
the Internet retailer and its Website were asked.
Because of compulsive buyers’ self-esteem being lower than that
of non-compulsive buyers, we expect that they should be more
Measures
likely to buy prestigious products. Buying prestigious products
could help these consumers facilitate the goal of increasing their
The tendency to buy compulsively was measured using a
perceptions of self-worth and self-completion (Belk 1988).
recently developed six-item compulsive buying scale (Ridgway,
H6. Compulsive buyers are more likely to be prestige sensitive Kukar-Kinney, and Monroe 2008). Compulsive buying has been
than non-compulsive buyers. found to be a second-order construct, consisting of two under-
lying dimensions: the obsessive-compulsive preoccupation with
Similarly, we would expect compulsive buyers to be more
buying and impulsive buying. Cronbach’s alpha for the scale as
focused on buying well-known national brands as opposed
a whole (across the two dimensions) was .84. To use the scale in
to lesser known or store brands. While brand conscious-
further analysis, we composed an index of compulsive buying
ness as a buyer characteristic may not be directly related to
by summing the responses to the six items (each measured on a
price, nevertheless, well-known and national brands are almost
7-point frequency or Likert-type scale). The mean value of com-
always priced higher than less familiar store brands (Apelbaum,
pulsive buying index was 17.13, the median value was 16 and
Gerstner, and Naik 2003; Dick, Jain, and Richardson 1997).
the range across respondents was 6–42. The chi-square value for
This idea holds true for clothing brands as well (for example,
the confirmatory factor model was 96 (8 d.f.). Other goodness
Caslon being Nordstrom’s less expensive store brand). As with
of fit measures were: CFI = .90, IFI = .90, and RMSEA = .08,
prestige sensitivity, compulsive buyers should be more likely
indicating an adequate fit of the model.
to receive a boost to their self-esteem when buying (and con-
All price-related constructs were measured with multiple
sequently, using) higher-priced well-known brands. Moreover,
items. Most items were taken or adapted from the previous litera-
previous research shows a link between hedonic benefits and
ture and some were developed and added to existing items in this
buying national brands on promotions (Ailawadi, Neslin, and
research. All items used along with the source of each measure
Gedenk 2001). Experiencing positive feelings, such as shopping
are listed in Appendix A. All construct reliabilities exceed .70
enjoyment, is a crucial part of the buying process for compulsive
(with all but one greater than .80), exhibiting sufficient reliabil-
buyers (Faber and O’Guinn 1992), and they should be likely to
ity. Individual construct reliabilities as well as inter-correlations
experience greater shopping enjoyment when buying national
for each measure are shown in Table 1. The chi-square value for
as compared to store brands, leading them to prefer national to
the confirmatory factor model containing all price-related mea-
store brands. Hence, we propose that:
sures was 765 (382 d.f.). Other goodness of fit measures were:
H7. Compulsive buyers are more likely to be brand conscious CFI = .93, IFI = .93, and RMSEA = .06.
than non-compulsive buyers. Discriminant validity of measures was assessed first by ver-
ifying that all inter-construct correlations were significantly
Methodology lower than one. As the second, more stringent test, we constricted
items that were supposed to measure two different constructs,
Sample to load on a single underlying construct. For all pairs of con-
structs, this action resulted in a significantly worse confirmatory
To test the hypotheses, a national survey of customers of factor model fit, indicating that the respective items indeed mea-
an Internet women’s clothing retailer was conducted. An email sure distinct underlying constructs, thus providing additional
message was sent to a sample of 1,490 customers alerting them evidence of discriminant validity.
M. Kukar-Kinney et al. / Journal of Retailing 88 (1, 2012) 63–71 67

Table 1
Construct inter-correlations and reliabilities.
Compulsive Price Store price Sale Transaction Price-quality Prestige Brand
buying consciousness knowledge proneness value sensitivity consciousness

Compulsive buying .84


Price consciousness .10* .71
Store price knowledge .19*** .52*** .93
Sale proneness .16*** .49*** .42*** .81
Transaction value .20*** .52*** .49*** .51*** .90
Price-quality inferences .04 −.16*** .02 −.09 −.07 .90
Prestige sensitivity .18*** −.04 .13** .13** .04 .47*** .90
Brand consciousness .12** −.02 .23*** .01 .08 .42*** .29*** .81

Notes: Construct reliabilities are displayed on the diagonal, construct inter-correlations obtained are reported below the diagonal.
* Significant at .05 level.
** Significant at .01 level (two-tailed).
*** Significant at .001 level.

Analysis and results ers (Mcompulsive buyers = 4.94, Mnon-compulsive buyers = 4.50,
F1, 255 = 5.19, p = .02, r = .14). Hypothesis 2 predicted that
Because of the subsequent analysis, it was necessary to create compulsive buyers will exhibit higher store price knowledge
a group of compulsive buyers and a group of non-compulsive than non-compulsive consumers. Consistent with Hypothesis 2,
buyers. Therefore, we split the respondents into two groups compulsive buyers on average rate their store price knowledge to
based on their compulsive buying index. Consistent with the be higher than non-compulsive buyers (Mcompulsive buyers = 4.98,
classification criteria recommended by the developers of the Mnon-compulsive buyers = 3.93, F1, 255 = 17.95, p = .00, r = .26).
scale (Ridgway, Kukar-Kinney, and Monroe 2008), respondents In line with our predictions stated in Hypothesis 3, the
with a compulsive buying index value of 25 or higher were clas- sale proneness level of compulsive buyers is higher than
sified as compulsive buyers and those respondents whose index that of non-compulsive buyers (Mcompulsive buyers = 3.65,
value was 24 or below were labeled as non-compulsive buy- Mnon-compulsive buyers = 3.19, F1, 255 = 4.19, p = .04, r = .13),
ers. This procedure resulted in 16 percent of our sample being providing support for Hypothesis 3. Further, as predicted
categorized as compulsive buyers. The categorical variable indi- in Hypothesis 4, perceived transaction value is higher for
cating whether the consumer was a compulsive buyer (1) or compulsive buyers as opposed to non-compulsive buy-
non-compulsive buyer (0) was used in further analyses. The ers (Mcompulsive buyers = 5.83, Mnon-compulsive buyers = 5.06,
hypotheses were tested using MANOVA, with compulsive buy- F1, 255 = 9.21, p = .00, r = .19), providing support for Hypothesis
ing as the fixed factor and the response variables as the dependent 4 and confirming that compulsive buyers experience greater
variables. Income was used as covariate in the analysis. Initially, pleasure when obtaining a good price deal than non-compulsive
we also used social desirability as a covariate, since it was found consumers.
to be correlated with the compulsive buying index (ρ = −.23, The positive role of price: Compulsive buyers were
p < .01). However, social desirability was not significant in the proposed to be less likely to infer quality based on price
MANCOVA analysis (p > .10), and hence was dropped to obtain in comparison with non-compulsive buyers (Hypothesis
a more parsimonious model. 5). However, as shown in Table 2, the average level of
The negative role of price: We proposed in Hypothesis price-quality inferences is not significantly different for com-
1 that compulsive buyers are likely to be more price con- pulsive and non-compulsive buyers (Mcompulsive buyers = 3.37,
scious than non-compulsive buyers. The results confirm Mnon-compulsive buyers = 3.70, F1, 255 = 2.35, p = .13, r = .10).
this prediction as the mean level of price consciousness Compulsive buyers do exhibit a directionally lower extent
is higher for compulsive than for non-compulsive buy- of making such inferences, but the difference does not quite

Table 2
Results of hypotheses tests.
Dependent variable Hypothesis Mean (C)a Mean (NC)a F1,.255 p-Value Conclusion

Price consciousness H1: C > NC 4.94 4.50 5.19 .02 Supported


Store price knowledge H2: C > NC 4.98 3.93 17.95 .00 Supported
Sale proneness H3: C > NC 3.65 3.19 4.19 .04 Supported
Transaction value H4: C > NC 5.83 5.06 9.21 .00 Supported
Price-quality inferences H5: C < NC 3.37 3.70 2.35 .13 Mixed supportb
Prestige sensitivity H6: C > NC 2.68 2.01 12.20 .00 Supported
Brand consciousness H7: C > NC 5.00 4.46 6.26 .01 Supported
a C = compulsive buyers; NC = non-compulsive buyers.
b MANOVA analysis suggests rejection of H4 (p = .13), while one-sided independent t-test results indicate support for H4 (p = .03).
68 M. Kukar-Kinney et al. / Journal of Retailing 88 (1, 2012) 63–71

reach statistical significance. Thus, Hypothesis 5 is not they experience through the buying process, they do not appear
accepted. Hypothesis 6 proposed that compulsive buyers to use the price-quality heuristic as a shortcut to faster purchase
will be more prestige sensitive than non-compulsive buyers. decisions any more than other shoppers.
As predicted, compulsive buyers are more prestige sensitive In fact, as conclusions based on other hypotheses tested in
than non-compulsive consumers (Mcompulsive buyers = 2.68, the present research suggest, even though these consumers buy
Mnon-compulsive buyers = 2.01, F1, 255 = 12.20, p = .00, r = .22), compulsively, they seem to behave as smart shoppers when
providing support for Hypothesis 6. Moreover, compul- they search for and buy products of interest. In general, they
sive buyers are also more brand conscious in comparison are more likely to shop around, exhibiting higher levels of
with non-compulsive buyers (Mcompulsive buyers = 5.00, price consciousness. In addition, they are also more prone
Mnon-compulsive buyers = 4.46, F1, 255 = 6.26, p = .01, r = .15), to purchase items that are on sale in comparison with non-
which supports Hypothesis 7. compulsive buyers. Thus, when they actually make purchases,
they are more inclined to make sure they get a low price for
Discussion the products of interest. Buying on sale or finding another
form of a good price deal provides them with inner satisfac-
The hypothesized relationships between compulsive buy- tion and allows them to attain the positive feelings they seek
ing and the price response constructs were all supported with when purchasing. In our study, compulsive buyers reported
an exception of price-quality inferences. We expected that, in deriving more pleasure (i.e., higher transaction value) from
comparison with non-compulsive consumers, compulsive buy- taking advantage of a price promotion or another price deal
ers would be less likely to rely on the price-quality heuristic than non-compulsive buyers. Therefore, it is not just buying
because of their extensive shopping experience resulting in more per se that allows the compulsive buyers to alleviate negative
accumulated product and price knowledge. While, as antici- feelings and provides them with a boost of positive feelings,
pated, the compulsive buying group is directionally less likely but it is rather buying selected products or brands at a good
to infer quality on the basis of price than the non-compulsive price.
group, our MANOVA findings show that the difference in sam- In addition, the compulsive buying group appears to focus
ple means across the two groups of buyers does not quite their purchases on products that provide them with prestige
reach statistical significance (p = .13). Because of these bor- and recognition, such as well-known and higher priced brands.
derline results, we followed up the MANOVA analysis with Focusing on more prestigious brands and products likely allows
an independent samples t-test, which allowed us to use a these consumers to feel better about themselves by provid-
one-tailed significance test. The obtained t-test results indicate ing a boost to their self-esteem. Since prestigious brands and
that, in fact, compulsive buyers are less likely to make price- products tend to be higher priced than lesser known or store
quality inferences in comparison with non-compulsive buyers brands (Apelbaum, Gerstner, and Naik 2003; Dick, Jain, and
(Mcompulsive buyers = 3.33, Mnon-compulsive buyers = 3.72, t = 1.90, Richardson 1997), this finding may at first appear to be inconsis-
one-sided p = .03). Therefore, the additional analysis shows tent with the compulsive buyers’ identified focus on low prices.
that the price-quality hypothesis may also be supported by the However, while compulsive buyers are indeed found to prefer
data. prestigious national brands, at the same time it seems that they
To remain conservative in our interpretation, we can con- like to search for a good price on these brands across different
clude with confidence that compulsive buyers are not more stores or desire to buy them on sale or some other type of price
likely to make price-quality inferences than non-compulsive deal.
buyers. At worst, they are equally likely to make such infer-
ences (as MANOVA results indicate), and possibly, even less Implications
likely than non-compulsive buyers (as the t-test results sug-
gest). Theoretically, the present research is to the best of our knowl-
As discussed earlier, compulsive buyers are knowledgeable edge the first study to explore how compulsive buyers perceive
and experienced consumers (both of which should lead to their and react to prices. As such, it importantly contributes to iden-
lesser use of heuristics when making purchase decisions). At the tifying and determining the nature of the relationship between
same time, however, they may still focus on instant gratification consumers’ compulsive buying tendencies and the role of price
and desire a “quick fix” for their negative mood in the form in consumer buying behavior. Overall, we find that compulsive
of buying (Faber and O’Guinn 1992). As a result, they may buyers tend to have a heightened response (in comparison with
not always want to take the time and effort needed to carefully non-compulsive buyers) to price in both its positive and nega-
evaluate the product and its quality, and may still – to some tive roles. This finding translates into compulsive buyers on one
extent – rely on the price-quality heuristic. However, they do not hand being more vulnerable to buying higher-priced prestigious
make the price-quality inferences to any larger degree than non- brands, and searching for good price deals on these brands on
compulsive consumers. This is a positive finding as it suggests the other hand.
that compulsive buyers may not be more vulnerable to paying a From the consumer welfare perspective, a question that we
higher price just because they would more strongly believe and sought to address in the present research is the extent to which
rely on the heuristic that higher-priced products are of higher compulsive buyers consider the price of products when shopping
quality. Even though these consumers focus on positive feelings and buying. Because their focus is on deriving positive feelings
M. Kukar-Kinney et al. / Journal of Retailing 88 (1, 2012) 63–71 69

from the buying process, it was possible that they would not pay used to test the hypotheses was not representative of an average
much attention to price, and thus potentially could overpay for consumer. Given that the data were obtained from customers of
the selected purchases. A possibility for such consumer behavior an Internet clothing retailer, the sample was limited to consumers
exists as it seemed plausible that compulsive buyers make less who purchase clothing online, but did not examine consumers
than optimal choices due to their need to buy quickly (impul- who make purchases primarily at bricks-and-mortar stores. The
sively), resulting in them not spending sufficient time shopping sample was also relatively affluent and predominantly limited to
around for low prices. However, our findings indicate that this women (who were previously found to constitute the majority
may not be the case. of compulsive buyers). Thus, future research should use more
Consumer compulsive buying behavior still remains an heterogeneous consumer populations to test the proposed rela-
important concern from the consumer welfare perspective tionships.
because of the frequency with which it occurs, the total amount The present research focused on a general group of com-
these consumers spend on their purchases, and the dysfunctional pulsive buyers classified as such by a compulsive buying scale
consequences that result from compulsive buying behavior suitable for use with the general population, rather than on
(d’Astous 1990; Ridgway, Kukar-Kinney, and Monroe 2008). a narrowly defined group of pathological compulsive buyers
Compulsive buying behaviors frequently lead to harmful conse- who are psychiatrically identified. Thus, we cannot general-
quences, such as arguments with family, suboptimal allocation ize our findings to those consumers. Due to the necessary
of time, and negative financial outcomes. However, the present financial problems psychiatrically identified compulsive buy-
research demonstrates that once the decision has been made to ers experience as a result of their buying behavior, it would
buy a product, these consumers do not necessarily make sub- also be of interest to examine the price-related responses
optimal price choices based on the products of interest. While of this consumer population in future research. For exam-
this finding may seem a small “light” amidst a sea of nega- ple, it is possible that the severe financial problems they
tive consequences, nonetheless, it does alleviate a concern that are experiencing are an indication that the pathological com-
these vulnerable consumers are at risk of paying higher prices pulsive buyers may not respond to price as rationally as
than necessary. Interestingly, compulsive buyers, while admit- non-pathological compulsive buyers identified in the current
ting that they often purchase items they do not need or did not research.
plan to buy (“buy things I don’t need”; “buy things I did not Another intriguing area of future research would be inves-
plan to buy”), nevertheless do enjoy and get positive feelings tigating in more depth the relationship of price knowledge
from shopping and finding products that are being price pro- and compulsive buying. In our study, we collected only sub-
moted. In this sense they are vulnerable to frequent price and jective estimates of price knowledge, which may not be an
sales promotions. accurate reflection of objective price knowledge (Mägi and
This research also has implications for retailers. Online retail- Julander 2005; Ofir et al. 2008). Thus, both subjective and
ers frequently, often daily, inform consumers via email about objective price knowledge should be measured and its link to
new products and collections they are offering, as well as sales compulsive buyers should be examined. Are compulsive buy-
and other promotional events, such as free shipping. These fre- ers indeed more knowledgeable about store prices, which may
quent notifications may spur compulsive buyers to purchase enable them to make better purchase decisions? Or, alterna-
more frequently, especially when an attractive price offer is tively, do they just think that they know the prices better, in
included. Thus compulsive buyers have an excuse to buy and turn being over-confident and making worse purchase deci-
an opportunity to achieve an even higher “high” because of the sions?
pleasure of being able to take advantage of a price deal. From An interesting supplement to the present research would be
the consumer welfare standpoint, retailers might consider iden- an in-depth qualitative study of a small number of compul-
tifying these problematic buyers and excluding them from some sive buyers, focusing on their shopping experiences and the
of their communications. However, notifying consumers about best deals they have ever obtained, their motivations and jus-
sales and other forms of price promotions provides compulsive tification for buying products on price promotions, as well as
buyers opportunities to experience more transaction value and potential remorse when not taking advantage of a promotion.
pay lower prices at the same time. While these two prescriptions Further research could also explore whether compulsive buying
may seem like a “Catch 22,” it would seem that encouraging con- is a product- or product-category specific or a more generalized
sumers who have or exhibit a tendency to buy compulsively to consumer behavior.
be more moderate in their buying would have social benefits.
In addition, leaving problematic buyers out of communications
Appendix A. Scale items
would have personal benefits to individual consumers. They
would, perhaps, buy less frequently when they are not constantly
Compulsive Buying (Ridgway, Kukar-Kinney, and Monroe
alerted to online products and deals or promotions.
2008):
Conclusions
My closet has unopened shopping bags in it.
While all but one of the proposed hypotheses were supported Others might consider me a “shopaholic”.
in the present study, we need to note that the sample that was Much of my life centers around buying things.
70 M. Kukar-Kinney et al. / Journal of Retailing 88 (1, 2012) 63–71

Buy things I don’t need.* Even for a relatively inexpensive product I think that buying a
Buy things I did not plan to buy.* costly brand is impressive.
I consider myself an impulse purchaser. People notice when you buy the most expensive brand of a
product.
Price consciousness (Kopalle and Lindsey-Mullikin 2003; Buying a high-priced brand makes me feel good about myself.
Lichtenstein, Ridgway, and Netemeyer 1993; Putrevu and I enjoy the prestige of buying a high-priced brand.
Ratchford 1997): It says something to people when you buy the high-priced
version of a product.
I have purchased the most expensive brand of a product because
I check the prices even for inexpensive items before buying.
I knew other people would notice.
I read price tags of the products I buy.
Low price is an important consideration in my purchases.
Brand consciousness (Donthu and Gilliland 1996; Shim and
No matter what I buy, I shop around to get the lowest price.
Gehrt 1996):
I would never shop at more than one retail store to find low
prices. (reverse-coded)
I usually purchase brand name products.
The well known national brands are best for me.
Store price knowledge (Urbany, Dickson, and Kalapurakal When given a choice between a national brand name product
1996): and a store brand product, I choose the national brand most of
the time.
I know a lot about how prices compare for similar items across
different stores. Note: All items were measured on a 7-point Likert scale,
I know which stores have the best prices for clothing and except items denoted by *, which were responses to a question
accessories. “How often do you . . .?” and were anchored at 1 = never, and
I know which stores have good price promotions. 7 = very often.

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