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The Lonely Consumer: Loner or Conformer?

The Lonely Consumer: Loner or Conformer?

By
Jing Wang, Rui (Juliet) Zhu, Baba Shiv
Journal of Consumer Research. April
2012, Vol. 38, Issue 6, Pages 1116-1128

Despite the popularity of social networks and technologies that intend to enhance social interaction, more Americans feel lonely now than before. This research examines how loneliness affects consumers’ responses to consensus-related social cues in marketing contexts. Results from three studies show that lonely consumers prefer minority-endorsed products, whereas nonlonely consumers prefer majority-endorsed products. However, this pattern occurs only when consumers’ product preferences are kept private. When product preferences are subject to public scrutiny, lonely consumers shift their preferences to majority-endorsed products. Results also reveal the underlying mechanisms. Minority-endorsed products fit better with the feelings of loneliness, and this fit mediates the effect of loneliness and endorsement type (i.e., majority vs. minority endorsement) on product evaluations in private consumption contexts. Yet, when their preferences are subject to public scrutiny, lonely consumers are concerned about being negatively evaluated by others, and this concern causes them to conform to the majority.