Hedonic and Utilitarian Motivations behind Shopping and Research Behaviors: Theory and Evidence

Hedonic and Utilitarian Motivations behind Shopping and Research Behaviors: Theory and Evidence

Wan-Ju Iris Franz (Cameron School of Business, University of St. Thomas, Houston, TX, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/ijabe.2014070102
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Using a simple theoretical model, this paper demonstrates that an individual's behavior is greatly influenced by her hedonic and utilitarian values of a task. While hedonic value is the intrinsic benefit one receives from performing a task (e.g., having fun playing the game), utilitarian value is the tangible reward one obtains from performing the task (e.g., winning the prize). Utilitarian value of a task outlasts its hedonic value. An individual with high utilitarian value but low hedonic value of a task is likely to stop performing that task once she receives a tangible reward. By contrast, an individual who garners high hedonic value of a task will continue performing that task to obtain more hedonic value. The survey reveals that most individuals agree that the utilitarian value of shopping outlasts its hedonic value. Regression results demonstrate that consumers with high hedonic value of shopping are more likely to exhibit traits of shopaholism than those with low hedonic value in shopping. JEL classification codes: D01, D03, J2.
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1. Introduction

When I shop, the world gets better; and then it’s not, and I need to do it again. (Rebecca Bloomwood, Confessions of a Shopaholic)

While certain consumers leave the shopping mall or retail store as soon as they have completed their intended purchases, others spend hours shopping even after their purchases are complete. Why do consumers behave differently? Likewise, certain professors discontinue research activities after they are granted tenure, while others remain productive long after tenure is granted. What prompts the distinct behaviors of these professors? These two seemingly unrelated questions might have the same answer.

There are two values, hedonic and utilitarian value, in many tasks we perform in our daily life. If an individual performs a task to obtain a tangible reward, then the reward is said to be the utilitarian value of the task. However, if the individual performs a task simply because she “loves it,” then the task is ascribed an intrinsic, hedonic value to the individual (Triandis, 1977; Deci, Betley, Kahle, Abrams, & Porac, 1981).

With shopping as an example, a utilitarian consumer is task-oriented, going to a shopping mall or other retail outlet to obtain the items she needs. In other words, a utilitarian consumer “shops to buy,” and the goods acquired in the shopping mall are the tangible reward of the shopping trip. Further, a utilitarian consumer considers shopping “work” (Fischer & Arnold, 1990; Sherry, McGrath, & Levy, 1993), and therefore might want to minimize the time spent on shopping. By contrast, a hedonic consumer considers shopping to have an intrinsic value and therefore regards it as an adventure; even window-shopping is enjoyable to her. Hence, a hedonic consumer “buys to shop,” and she considers shopping “fun” (Babin, Darden, & Griffin, 1994; Batra & Ahtola, 1990; Langrehr, 1991; Sherry, 1990).

Similar to consumers, professors ascribe hedonic and utilitarian value to their research. For professors, utilitarian value of research includes tenure, promotions, good reputation, and salary increases. A utilitarian professor does research to obtain the tangible reward without which she has no incentive to research. By contrast, a hedonic professor performs research because she enjoys the intellectual pleasure she derives from it. She does research for the intangible benefits it offers, and therefore, she will continue researching even if tangible rewards from researching are not present. For example, a professor might continue research activities even if she has already obtained full professorship.

Likewise, a utilitarian churchgoer visits church for practical reasons, such as meeting business contacts or receiving financial support. If there are no business contacts at a particular church, or if the church provides no financial support, then the utilitarian churchgoer might quit that church or switch to a different church. Conversely, a hedonic churchgoer enjoys attending church - with or without a tangible reward.

Individuals can perform a task for both hedonic and utilitarian values. It might be difficult to discern whether an individual performs a particular task for its hedonic or utilitarian value, or both. Furthermore, an individual’s hedonic and utilitarian value can change from time to time. In particular, a consumer’s hedonic and utilitarian value of shopping depends not only on her taste, but also on the attributes of the product she is shopping for. Khan, Dhar, and Wertenbroch (2004) roughly separate goods into hedonic and utilitarian ones. The consumption of hedonic goods, such as designer clothes and flowers, provides fun and excitement to the consumer. On the other hand, the consumption of utilitarian goods, such as kitchen appliances, washers and dryers, is more instrumental and functional (Dhar & Wertenbroch, 2000; Hirschman & Holbrook, 1982; Strahilevitz & Myers, 1998). A consumer can be more hedonic when shopping for hedonic goods, but more utilitarian when shopping for utilitarian goods. Similarly, a professor might ascribe more utilitarian value on research before her tenure review, but ascribe more hedonic value on research when working on an interesting project.

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