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When do consumers indulge in luxury?

Berlin, December 19, 2012

An interview with Francine Espinoza Petersen, Associate Professor at ESMT and author of the working paper “When do consumers indulge in luxury? Emotional certainty signals when to indulge to regulate affect.“

Francine Espinoza Petersen

Francine, it is Christmas time and many of us are going on our annual shopping spree. This fits to your recent paper on buying behavior. What exactly do you analyze?

I try to explain how emotions affect our buying behavior. In our society it is common to buy things we do not really need. Our emotions play a major role in this.  We buy consumer goods and luxury products to feel better. It is the same when we buy Christmas gifts; our emotions cause us to indulge in luxury.

How exactly do emotions affect our buying behavior?

Both positive and negative emotions can cause us to buy more than we need. If you feel bad, you try to separate yourself from this feeling by shopping. But if you feel good, you buy things to keep the feeling.  I am sure that many people recognize this phenomenon in themselves. You might have noticed yourself doing it.

Do we buy more if we are happy or unhappy?

It is too simple to divide emotions into simply positive or negative. Feelings also have other dimensions associated with them, such as, for example, certainty or uncertainty. If we have negative emotions that are related to uncertainty like fear, we will probably buy more than we would if we were angry, because anger is a negative emotion connected with certainty.

And what about positive feelings?

Surprisingly here it works the other way round – a person who feels happy, a positive feeling associated with certainty, is likely to consume more than a person who is hopeful. Certain positive feelings work as a trigger to indulge.  If you are sure that you are feeling good, you will indulge yourself to keep your emotional state.

So if we would like to buy less, it is best to be angry or hopeful?

Yes, in very simplified terms. Our feelings and how certain or uncertain they are affects our buying behavior. Indulging in luxury is a result of our emotions, and we will definitely be able to observe this again with Christmas shopping this year.