Bringing style home

August 13, 2012

Does the ideal ratio of couch to rug size keep you up at night? Are the exposed wires of your stereo causing you angst? Is that crocheted toilet paper cover kitschy enough to be cool? If you wonder, then you are not alone.

For Concordia University's Zeynep Arsel, such questions have led to exciting new research into buyer behaviour. The assistant professor of marketing at the John Molson School of Business teamed up with Jonathan Bean from Parsons The New School of Design in New York City to co-author a recent article in the . Together, they investigated how the notion of taste can be seen as an integral part of in addition to serving as a boundary that sets one apart from the crowd.

The researchers turned to a surprising source for their findings: Apartment Therapy, a popular website with a fresh take on present-day interior decorating that has had more hits than Martha Stewart's online empire. Arsel and Bean painstakingly combed through hundreds of thousands of posts and comments on the website to uncover how its readers were forming their own notions of by following a prescriptive view of what constitutes cool when it comes to interior decorating.

"It turns out that reading Apartment Therapy or watching a do-it-yourself home decorating show is way more than just a passive leisure activity," explains Arsel. "It's really an element of practice that influences how people relate to objects and what they do with them."

While our choices in interior decorating may begin as a simple imitation of what we see online or on TV, those decisions eventually become ingrained.

Arsel herself was not immune to this pattern of . She first came to the Apartment Therapy website out of personal curiosity rather than academic interest. "I was just getting my first apartment as a new PhD," she recalls. "It was a lower duplex that was totally typical of Montreal and I wanted some decorating ideas to help me liven up the dark space."

Through personal experience and in-depth research, Arsel and Bean developed a new theory that sees taste-making as a tripartite process that involves problematization, instrumentalization and ritualization.

First, the consumer problematizes his or her own environment by comparing it to the prescriptions on the web site and acknowledging that things could be improved. Then, they rationalize a design choice or purchase through the process of instrumentalization or, in other words, linking this choice to goals and meanings. Finally, imitation becomes ingrained behaviour through repetition and ritualization.

"We start by looking at these decorating sites and emulating what we see. But through repeated exposure, we develop our own standards for what can in fact become personal taste," says Arsel.

Explore further: Now or later? Consumer product evaluation depends on purchase timing

More information: Journal of Consumer Research: ejcr.org/
Zeynep Arsel's website: zeyneparsel.com/

Related Stories

How does the order of choices affect consumer decisions?

March 15, 2012

Let's say you've got to book a flight, choose a hotel, and rent a car. Does it matter which thing you shop for first? A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research finds that the order of choices does affect consumers' ...

Recommended for you

Amateur paleontologist finds rare fossil of fish in Arizona

September 3, 2015

Growing up, Stephanie Leco often would dig in her backyard and imagine finding fossils of a tyrannosaurus rex. She was fascinated with the idea of holding something in her hand that was millions of years old and would give ...

X-rays reveal fossil secrets

September 3, 2015

A sophisticated imaging technique has allowed scientists to virtually peer inside a 10-million-year-old sea urchin, uncovering a treasure trove of hidden fossils.

Early human diet explains our eating habits

August 31, 2015

Much attention is being given to what people ate in the distant past as a guide to what we should eat today. Advocates of the claimed palaeodiet recommend that we should avoid carbohydrates and load our plates with red meat ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.