Holiday shopping madness: When do consumers seek to punish fellow shoppers for behaving badly?

December 11, 2012

Consumers seek to punish fellow consumers who violate social norms while shopping but also make exceptions depending on the situation, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"Punishment is a complex decision for consumers to make as it is difficult to punish someone but also difficult to look the other way. Consumers do not seem to make these decisions lightly, and a number of interesting factors influence consumer punishment decisions," write authors Lily Lin, Darren W. Dahl (both University of British Columbia), and Jennifer J. Argo (University of Alberta).

Consumers are expected to follow numerous while shopping. Yet violations of these norms are also very common. For example, some consumers may cut in front of others while waiting in line for a cashier at the supermarket, while others may take multiple free samples when they aren't supposed to or create a huge mess at a store display. How do consumers respond when other shoppers "break the rules" in their presence?

One study revealed that consumers were less likely to punish another consumer for creating a mess if they had already been punished by a store employee. Other studies showed that consumers were also less likely to punish a fellow consumer for cutting in line if that person had experienced adversity due to a situation (a during airport check-in) or a negative physical attribute beyond their (obesity due to a ).

Another interesting study showed that consumers were less likely to want to punish a fellow consumer who was late for an appointment if this individual had higher status. In this instance, the consumer in the higher status position was held to a different standard and excused for their .

"We all have frequent interactions with other consumers in shopping environments and can attest to times when other shoppers haven't behaved properly. Companies need to be aware of how this could negatively affect their business since these types of conflicts can affect how consumers make decisions and evaluate their shopping experience," the authors conclude.

Explore further: Energy prices pushing shoppers online

More information: Lily Lin, Darren W. Dahl, and Jennifer J. Argo. "Do the Crime, Always Do the Time? Insights into Consumer-to-Consumer Punishment Decisions." Journal of Consumer Research: June 2013.

Related Stories

Energy prices pushing shoppers online

December 14, 2005

More than one out of every three online households said rising energy prices would alter their holiday shopping this season, a survey found.

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

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations

October 9, 2015

Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.


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.