Funded PhD Research

Tong (Joy) Lu

Help Me Help Myself: Consumer Agency in Selecting and Consuming Products for Everyday Risk Prevention and Problem Treatment

Marketing Department; Faculty Adviser: J. Wesley Hutchinso

In order to provide consumers with aid and convenience when selecting products, retailers often employ sales personnel to give “expert” advice or use “expert” endorsers in advertisements. Similarly, retailers may emphasize how easy products are to use and how the products help customers during the consumption process.

However, consumers also desire a sense of agency or control during consumption and may react to products and brands when they feel their agency is being threatened. To give consumers this sense of control, retailers may offer customizable product options or emphasize the consumer’s hands-on effort in using the product.

The objective of this project is to investigate consumer desire for agency during the stages of product selection and product consumption. We will specifically focus on everyday products found in pharmacy retail stores that are used for minor risk prevention and problem treatment, including products for skincare, personal hygiene, and first aid.

We will explore the different emotions elicited by risk prevention versus problem treatment, and how regulating these emotions influences consumers’ desire to assert or forgo agency. In risk prevention, the accompanying emotions of fear and anxiety lead to feeling loss of control, so we predict that consumers will seek to assert agency through consumption. In problem treatment, we will examine different situations in which the problem at hand evokes either sadness or anger. We predict that sad consumers seeking problem treatment feel uncertain about the situation and are motivated to change their mood, so they will attempt to assert agency through consumption. In contrast, angry consumers feel less uncertainty and believe that others should solve their problems, so they are willing to forgo agency.

Understanding the situations in which consumers want to assert or forgo agency will provide implications for product advertisement and design.

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