Judging the book by its cover? How consumers decode conspicuous consumption cues in buyer-seller relationships

Maura L. Scott, Martin Mende, Lisa E. Bolton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


Little empirical consumer research has focused on the decoding of conspicuous symbolism, that is, the inferences consumers make about others' conspicuous consumption. Grounded in theory on social perception and role congruity, four experiments show that consumer inferences about and behavioral intentions toward conspicuous sellers are moderated by communal and exchange relationship norms. Specifically, conspicuous consumption by a seller decreases warmth inferences and, in turn, behavioral intentions toward the seller under the communal norm; conversely, it increases competence inferences and, in turn, behavioral intentions under the exchange norm. A seller's mere wealth triggers similar inferences, suggesting that conspicuous consumption is a surrogate for actual wealth. Priming consumers with persuasion knowledge inhibits the inferential benefits resulting from conspicuousness under the exchange norm. These findings reveal the theoretically meaningful role of the consumption context by showing that consumers' warmth and competence inferences operate differentially in commercial relationships as a result of salient communal versus exchange norms, with important consequences for consumers' behavioral intentions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)334-347
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Marketing Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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