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Consumer Reaction to Unearned Preferential Treatment

Lan Jiang, JoAndrea Hoegg and Darren W. Dahl
Journal of Consumer Research
Vol. 40, No. 3 (October 2013), pp. 412-427
Published by: Oxford University Press
DOI: 10.1086/670765
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/670765
Page Count: 16
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Abstract

Prior research on consumer response to preferential treatment has focused on treatment that has been earned through loyalty or effort, and most of this work has reported positive outcomes for recipients. Unearned preferential treatment (e.g., receiving a surprise discount, getting a free upgrade), in contrast, has received little attention. The current research demonstrates that, although receiving unearned preferential treatment does generate positive reactions, it is not always an entirely pleasurable experience. Results from four experiments show that when unearned preferential treatment is received in front of others, the positive feelings of appreciation for the treatment can be accompanied by feelings of social discomfort stemming from concerns about being judged negatively by other customers. These feelings of discomfort can reduce satisfaction with a shopping experience and affect purchasing behaviors. The negative impact of unearned preferential treatment on satisfaction is moderated by the characteristics and reactions of those observers.

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