Two Essays on the Psychology of Scarcity and its Impact on Consumer Product Evaluations and Choice
Consumers frequently encounter situations in which they perceive that things are scarce. Monthly bills often remind them of limited monetary resources, approaching deadlines create the perception that time is scarce (Shah, Shafir, and Mullainathan 2015), and empty space in a product shelf signals limited availability of commodities. However, despite its prevalence, our understanding of what psychological processes are activated by these scarcity cues and how these processes influence subsequent decision making remains limited. My dissertation seeks to address these gaps by investigating how the perception of scarcity influences consumer product evaluations and choice, the mechanisms underlying these influences, and boundary conditions. Both essays are based on experimental methods. Chapter I of my dissertation examines how a perception of resource scarcity influences consumers' tendency to use price to judge product quality, namely price-quality judgments. I find that resource scarcity, contrary to what might be predicted by prior literature, decreases consumers' tendency to make price-quality judgments (i.e., decreased perceived association between price and quality). Chapter II of my dissertation examines how product unavailability influences consumer variety seeking. I find that while product unavailability leads consumers to make a less varied selection of given items when their preferences for the items are certain, product unavailability leads consumers to make a more varied selection of given items when their preferences for the items are uncertain. Together, these two essays unveil the influences of different types of scarcity on meaningful consumer behaviors. Both theoretical and managerial implications are discussed.