Product disposal

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Walker, Rebecca Elaine

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Consumers often dispose of unwanted goods that are still functional. However, even though the decision of how to dispose of these unwanted goods is both theoretically and practically important, this side of the marketing equation remains relatively unexplored. With a few notable exceptions (e.g., Lastovicka and Fernandez 2005; Price, Arnould, and Curasi 2000), disposition has been largely ignored despite repeated calls for researchers to expand their study of consumer behavior beyond acquisition and consumption to include disposition (Holbrook 1987; Jacoby 1978; Wells 1993). My dissertation represents the first experimental research to focus on how consumers’ preferences for modes of disposal differ by the nature of the good being disposed. Across three studies I demonstrate that different disposal methods are preferred for “special” goods, goods to which the consumer has become emotionally attached during the ownership experience, and uncover the directionality of those effects. I find in my first study that, overall, consumers are reluctant to sell special goods and that donation and throwing away are the preferred methods for less special goods. Storage, on the other hand, is considered more appropriate for special goods. My second study demonstrates that these effects are not driven by the good’s actual or perceived market value. Emotional attachment has an independent effect beyond that of the initial price paid for the good. The third study identifies four dimensions on which the disposal methods differ that drive the product/disposal method match: the ease of the method, the ethicality of the method, the degree of control the method provides to the disposer over the future fate of the good, and the amount of monetary compensation the method offers. Consumers want to exercise control over the fate of special goods in order to ensure that their specialness remains in tact, even after disposal. Easy methods, methods that direct the good to unknown needy recipients, and methods that provide monetary compensation are more appropriate for less special goods.