Date of Award

5-1-2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Business Administration

First Advisor

Adjei, Mavis

Second Advisor

Lee, Jaehoon

Abstract

Humans have an innate need to evaluate themselves and their progress toward life goals and they fulfill this need by comparing themselves to others. One way in which individuals conduct social comparisons is by comparing their possessions with the possessions of others. Prior literature suggests that consumers purchase and conspicuously use brands, not only for their functional benefits, but also for their psychological benefits. These psychological benefits can include reaffirmation of one’s status or group membership and increased self-esteem. Although previous research shows that social comparisons can influence consumer attitudes and behavior, it has focused primarily on the negative consequences of upward comparisons and the positive consequences of downward comparisons in the pre-purchase context. Because consumers do not stop conducting social comparisons once they purchase a brand, it is important to understand how social comparisons affect consumer attitudes and behavioral intentions in a post-purchase context. Additionally, little research has addressed how factors such as a brand’s concept and whether the brand will be used in public (vs. private) affect the relationship between the direction of social comparisons and consumer attitudes and behavioral intentions. This dissertation is focused on filling these gaps by looking at the potentially negative effects of downward comparisons and potentially positive effects of upward comparisons on consumer post-purchase attitudes and behavioral intentions. Specifically, this dissertation examines how observing an unsuccessful (successful) other using the same brand affects consumer attitudes toward the brand, preferences for conspicuous consumption, and repurchase intentions. This dissertation also examines how a brand’s concept and whether the brand is used primarily in public vs. private moderates this relationship. Unlike previous research that shows social comparisons can influence people’s preferences in a pre-purchase context, this research investigated how social comparisons influence people’s attitudes and behavioral intentions in the post-purchase context. Specifically, I examined how people’s attitudes and behavioral intentions towards brands they already own can differ based upon the direction of social comparisons. An examination of social comparison’s effects in the post-purchase context is important given the benefits that repeat and loyal customers provide firms. Results indicate that consumer post-purchase brand attitudes, repurchase intentions, and preferences for conspicuous consumption differ based upon the direction of social comparison. This indicates that attitudes and behavioral intentions can change based upon the direction of the comparison. Results also indicate that the effects of social comparisons on consumer attitudes and behavior are significant for symbolic brands but not for functional brands. Results also indicate that the effects of social comparisons on consumer attitudes and behavior are significant for public brands but not private brands. Finally, results indicate that perceived similarity between a consumer and comparison target mediates the relationship between social comparison and consumer attitudes and behavior. Theoretically, this research adds to the social comparison literature by showing the potentially negative consequences of downward comparisons on consumer attitudes and behavioral attitudes in the post-purchase context. It is also among the first to examine how a brand's concept interacts with the direction of a social comparison. Managerially, this research draws managers' attention to the importance of keeping brand concepts consistent.

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