Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

Me, We, or Thee? A Perceived Control Perspective on Consumer Decision Autonomy

Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

Me, We, or Thee? A Perceived Control Perspective on Consumer Decision Autonomy

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

While the nature of consumers' wants, needs, and desires may range from the "rational" to the "apparently irrational" (Holbrook & Hirschman, 1982, 132), all purchase decision processes are oriented toward goal achievement. Even though such goals may be of high personal importance, it has been noted that some consumers often do not strive for autonomy in managing their purchasing activities, including the purchase decision itself. For example, Westbrook and Fornell (1979) identified four different styles of information search, ranging from the objective shopper, who makes extensive use of multiple information sources, to the personal advice seeker, who relies primarily on personal sources for making buying decisions. Olshavsky and his colleagues (e.g., Olshavsky & Granbois, 1979; Rosen & Olshavsky, 1987) coined the terms "hybrid" and "subcontracted" decision making to describe decision processes wherein a consumer exhibits a degree of dependency upon (as opposed to utilization of) some outside source(s) for advice or choice.

Dependency in goal achievement is an issue addressed directly in the psychological literature regarding perceived control, a perspective on hybridization and subcontracting which has not yet been considered. Though the marketing literature pertaining to perceived control is relatively sparse, the construct has attained important stature in the psychological literature. Achievement behaviors have been shown to be influenced by personal control perceptions and preferences in a variety of domains, including academic achievement (e.g. Menec et al., 1994), stress, health, and health maintenance (e.g., Thompson et al., 1993), and search for and use of information in job hunting (e.g., Friedrich, 1987).

Olshavsky and his colleagues proposed a variety of potential reasons for hybrid and subcontracted decision behaviors, however, no theoretical explanation has been developed. Besides its value to consumer behavior theory, such an explanation could also help marketers predict and understand individual consumers' decision styles. Accordingly, this conceptual paper first seeks to explain why, and predict when, consumers do or do not choose a hybrid or subcontracted purchase decision process. Because consumer purchase decisions represent goal achievement situations, the paper advocates that the perceived control construct may be useful in formulating a better theoretical and working understanding of autonomous, hybrid, and subcontracted purchase processes. Two categories of control-related behaviors, primary and harmony control (Morling & Fiske, 1996; Rothbaum, Weisz & Snyder, 1982), are elucidated. Autonomous and subcontracted purchase behaviors, respectively, are argued to be manifestations of these two control behavior types. Hybrid decisions are characterized as purchase processes wherein primary and harmony behaviors coexist. The challenge of explaining and predicting these purchase decision behaviors becomes one of understanding the occurrence of the different forms of control behaviors.

The paper begins with a discussion of the perceived control construct, followed by a classification of reasons why consumers may or may not choose to forfeit a degree of control over their decision processes. This classification system is based upon the Motivation, Opportunity, and Ability framework (e.g., see MacInnis, Moorman & Jaworski, 1991), and is presented as a model of control-related behavior propensities in purchase decision processes (see Figure 1). It is offered as a systematic way of thinking about factors that determine, influence, or inhibit controlling behaviors in the purchase process. Theory and research results from both the consumer behavior and the perceived control literatures are discussed within the context of the model to (a) propose antecedent factors of primary and harmony control behaviors in decision making and (b) provide managerially useful methods of predicting purchasing behavior. …

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