Do losers matter? : an experimental look at the impact of control and scarcity on satisfaction with an online buying experience

Dunn, Sharon Ann
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Online auctions are growing in popularity. While tangible differences exist between posted-price buying environments and auctions, there has been little research about how these differences impact the evaluation of the buying experience. This study proposes that buyer satisfaction with a purchasing experience can be influenced by subtle social influences in the buying experience. Differences in buying mechanisms result from perceived social interaction (the perception that the buyer is interacting with other people) of the buying experience. Perceived interaction with others can impact buyer satisfaction in two key ways. These are 1) the perception of control in the price-setting and 2) the perception of scarcity in the buying process. Increased perceived social interaction changes the psychological experience of consumers. Drawing on theory in the social psychology field, this research develops hypotheses about how these differences impact consumer evaluation of satisfaction with the buying experience. Increased perceived control in price-setting was hypothesized to increase buyer satisfaction with the buying experience. An increase in the scarcity of the item relative to the number of interested buyers in the market was expected to impact satisfaction positively as well. An online buying environment was constructed to test these hypotheses experimentally. Using an online experimental market with both posted-prices and an auction, this research compared the satisfaction of consumers using each buying mechanism under different levels of scarcity. Experimental results demonstrated an interaction effect between control and scarcity. Satisfaction was significantly higher in conditions that perceived more control when scarcity was high than in conditions of low scarcity. Conditions in which the demand for items exceeded the supply reported greater satisfaction with the buying experience than those conditions where there were enough items for every interested buyer. The highest satisfaction was found under the combined conditions of high control and high scarcity. The Internet presents new choices in buying mechanisms. This research emphasizes that subtle differences in buying environments can change the evaluation of consumers. It contributes to an increased understanding of the impact that differences in buying mechanisms can have on buyer evaluation of the purchase process.