It's Not Just Business, It's Personal: The Self-Concept and Consumers' Fairness Judgments
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Consumers often pay different prices for the same product, and prices commonly vary across stores and time. Theories of fairness suggest that such price discrepancies will be deemed unfair, yet consumers’ perceptions of unfairness in such situations vary greatly (Haws and Bearden 2006). This dissertation aims to enrich our understanding of this issue by examining the role of threat in shaping consumers’ perceptions of unfairness. Specifically, integrating the extant literature on unfairness, affect and identity, it argues that an important basis for consumers’ perceptions of unfairness is the degree to which price differentials convey threatening information about important aspects of the consumers’ self-concept. In fact, it suggests that price differentials can convey threatening information about two distinct aspects of consumers’ identity – their perceived relational value and their personal identity - and identifies conditions under which such information is likely conveyed. Here, relational value refers to assessments of social worth and personal identity refers to the aspect of the self concerned with the achievement of individualized goals such as competence, mastery and conscience (Skitka 2003). The logic underlying this central argument is that self-threatening price differentials trigger more intense negative affect, which is subsequently used by consumers to inform their fairness judgments. The current work also examines whether price differentials that convey self-affirming information are likely to be deemed less unfair because of the positive feelings they inspire. Taken as a whole, this dissertation highlights the central role of threat in shaping consumers’ price fairness judgments. In doing so, it contributes to the fairness literature, both in marketing and more broadly, by offering an organizing framework for understanding the basis of consumers’ price fairness judgments.