Disentangle contextual and permanent individual motivations: an application to shopping behavior

Julien Schmitt, Dina Rasolofoarison

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Past studies resulted in conflicting definitions of consumer motivation. On the one hand, motivations are seen as the consumer’s characteristics that shape her general behavior (motivational trait). On the other hand, they are seen as contextual variables representing the reason why the individual is behaving specific to today’s context (motivational state). The objective of this research is to stress the difference between these two concepts and to understand the impact of each on consumer behavior. We applied our empirical study to shopping motivations; our results show a strong interaction between motivational trait and motivational state.

Problem and Hypothesis
On the one hand, Westbrook and Black (1985) consider shopping motivations as individual permanent characteristics. This concept is shared by other researchers (Rohm and Swaminathan 2004), which show that some shoppers are functional (they shop for convenience, information seeking, and time saving) while some others are hedonic (they shop for social interaction, bargain hunting and browsing). On the other hand, Kaltcheva and Weitz (2006) define motivations as a contextual orientation changing over time, depending on the situation, and show that contextual shopping motivations have a strong impact on shopping behavior. From our knowledge, no research specifically examined the respective impact of both these shopping motivation types.
To deal with this issue, we used the notions of “traits” and “states” that have been largely used in marketing research to designate respectively a permanent characteristic of the individual and a temporary orientation of the consumer (Mowen 2000). The reversal theory (Apter 2001) suggests that two opposite states exist: the telic and the paratelic states. In the telic state, individuals set goals for themselves, must be disciplined to reach these goals, and do not behave in accordance with their personal trait. In the paratelic state, individuals are seeking arousal and enjoyment, do not set rules, and one could postulate that they act in accordance with their natural tendencies.
Based on these considerations, we hypothesize the following process: in situations involving paratelic states, hedonic as well as functional individuals should behave according to their natural traits, whereas in situations involving telic states, hedonic people should inhibit their natural propensity to enjoy shopping and behave similarly to functional people. Hence, we postulate the following:

Hypothesis: Compared to shoppers with functional motivational trait, shoppers with hedonic motivational trait will a) significantly display more hedonic shopping behavior intentions in a condition of paratelic motivational state, and b) not display more hedonic shopping behavior intentions in a condition a telic motivational state

Empirical Research
First, 108 participants were asked to fill a multi-items scale about their shopping habits, which actually measured their shopping motivational traits. This questionnaire allowed us to highlight four different dimensions in shopping motivational traits: social interaction, novelty/utility seeking, bargain hunting, and browsing. According to their scores on different items, participants were classified as functional or as hedonic on each of these four dimensions (a single individual may be hedonic on some dimensions and functional on others). Then, participants were then induced to adopt either a telic or a paratelic shopping motivational state while reading an appropriate scenario. Finally, participants were asked for their shopping behavior intentions in response to the shopping context. Four items were developed, corresponding to the four shopping motivational trait dimensions we found with our factor analysis.

As we found four dimensions in shopping motivational trait, we set up four quasi-experimental designs to capture the entire phenomenon: for each dimension, a 2 (motivational trait) x 2 (motivational state) design was built, where the dependant variable was the shopping behavior element corresponding to the studied dimension. Four 2 x 2 Anovas were performed to assess the interaction between motivational trait and motivational state. Concerning the three dimensions - browsing, novelty/utility seeking, and bargain hunting- , in the paratelic state scenario participants with hedonic motivational trait displayed significantly more hedonic shopping behavior intentions than participants with a functional motivational trait (resp. F = 9.701, p = .003; F = 4.979, p = .03; F = 5.757, p = .02); and in the telic state scenario, there was no significant difference in behavior intentions between participants with hedonic or functional motivation trait. Each time, the interaction effect between motivational state and motivational trait was significant (resp. F = 4.859, p = .03; F = 3.314, p = .07; F = 2.98, p = .08). Concerning the fourth dimension, social interaction, shopping behavior intentions of participants with hedonic and with functional motivational traits were significantly different in the paratelic state scenario (F = 29.898, p <.000) as well as in the telic state scenario (F = 9.559, p = .003). However, the interaction effect showed that this behavioral difference was significantly stronger in the paratelic scenario. All these results support our research hypothesis.

Discussion and Implications
Our study provides consistent support for our hypotheses saying that there is an interaction effect between shopping motivational states and shopping motivational traits. The generalization of the results is strengthened by the study of four different shopping traits: social interaction, novelty/utility seeking, bargain hunting and browsing. As we proposed, when shopping in a goal-oriented state (telic state), behaviors of hedonic and functional shoppers do not differ significantly. Conversely, when shopping for a recreational reason (paratelic state), hedonic and functional shoppers behave significantly different.
These results could explain why some previous studies concluded that shopping motivational traits had no impact on shopping behavior: they did not take into consideration the interaction between motivational trait and motivational state. Moreover, our study shows that marketing surveys performed by store managers to draw the personal profile of their customers must be crossed with contextual motivations in order to accurately forecast shopper behavior.

Future Developments
Our results can be explained by the self-control process, which pushes hedonic-trait shoppers to behave in a rather functional way in utilitarian situations. However, to be certain that this is the very process that occurs, we plan to add self-control perception scales to our existing measures. This is obviously the next step of this research.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages3
Publication statusPublished - May 2008
EventSociety for Consumer Psychology 2008 Winter Conference - New Orleans, LA, United States
Duration: 21 Feb 200823 Feb 2008


ConferenceSociety for Consumer Psychology 2008 Winter Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityNew Orleans, LA

Bibliographical note

Published in the Proceedings of the Society for Consumer Psychology 2008 Winter Conference


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