Preference refinement after a budget contraction

Gretchen R. Ross, Margaret G. Meloy, Kurt A. Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


How does coping with a resource loss of time, space, or money change a consumer? In the current work, we argue that resource losses that give rise to budget contractions require a coping strategy that not only influences choice in the moment but also changes underlying consumer preferences. We show that the preference restructuring that occurs when coping with a budget loss also leads to stabilization of preferences. Specifically, a consumer who allocates a budget to a set of items prior to a budget contraction and allocates that same budget post-contraction when the budget is fully restored will allocate the restored budget to fewer options in the set. Coping with the contraction helps consumers prioritize what matters to them, leading to refinement of preference. This within-consumer preference refinement effect exists for budgets of time, space, and money. We identify boundary conditions (i.e., significant budget contractions and self-determined contraction allocations are necessary for prioritization to occur) and rule out non-prioritization explanations (e.g., anchoring and under-adjusting). These findings suggest that marketers should focus on capturing consumers who are dealing with budget contractions as this is one of the moments where individuals revisit and rediscover what matters most to them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)412-430
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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