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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Insights into consumer-to-consumer punishment decisions Lin, Pei-Shiuan Lily


Social norms are common in our daily lives, and violations of these norms are just as prevalent. While the topics of norm violations and punishment have been studied in disciplines outside of consumer research (e.g., sociology, psychology), research efforts have not examined consumers’ reactions toward another consumer who violates well-established norms in consumption contexts. The present research seeks to fill this void by introducing and investigating the concept of consumer-to-consumer punishment. Across seven experimental studies, this dissertation first provides insight into how consumers make punishment decisions toward fellow consumers. It then sets out to understand the downstream effects of norm violations and consumer punishment decisions. Based on the conceptualization that violations disrupt social order, and that social order can be restored through the punishment of norm violators, the first four studies of the dissertation highlight three factors that are critical in consumers’ punishment decisions. First, when a third party in the consumption environment restores social order through punishment, consumers will refrain from punishing further (study 1). Second, punishment is mitigated when the norm violator faces an unjustified adversity, as punishment would create a further imbalance in social order (studies 2a and 2b). Third, the level of punishment required to achieve social order is reduced for a higher status norm violator (study 3). The next three studies explore how norm violations and punishment decisions can negatively impact consumers’ consumption experience. Not only do norm violations result in an increase in punishment behavior, they also result in more negative ratings of the products (study 4). Interestingly, the normative nature of the store policy in place (norm reinforcing vs. norm licensing) was not shown to effectively mitigate these negative consumption evaluations (study 5). The last study demonstrates how the negative ramifications from norm violations can be offset by the punisher. Specifically, evaluations of consumption experience improved when a third party (i.e., store employee) took on the role of the punisher (study 6). Finally, the dissertation discusses the theoretical contributions of the current work, identifies important managerial implications, and suggests multiple avenues for future research.

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