The Effect of Scarcity Message on Consumer’S Purchase Intention in the Internet Shopping Mall

Yunkyoung Bae, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Korea
Sukekyu Lee, Sungkyunkwan University, Korea
ABSTRACT - The purpose of this study is to examine the effect of scarcity messages on the consumer’s purchase intention in an Internet shopping mall. Specifically, we explore the effect of a scarcity message on the consumer’s purchase intention using the product involvement and consumer’s product knowledge as moderators. The results show that a scarcity message is more effective than a non-scarcity message on the consumer’s purchase intention in the Internet shopping mall. And the effect of a scarcity message on the consumer’s purchase intention is found to be moderated by product involvement and consumer’s product knowledge. Furthermore, the effect of scarcity message on the consumer’s purchase intention is found to effective when the level of product involvement or consumer’s product knowledge is low. This study gives the implication that Internet shopping mall companies should consider the level of product involvement and consumer’s product knowledge when they use the scarcity message.
[ to cite ]:
Yunkyoung Bae and Sukekyu Lee (2005) ,"The Effect of Scarcity Message on Consumer’S Purchase Intention in the Internet Shopping Mall", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Yong-Uon Ha and Youjae Yi, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 252-258.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2005      Pages 252-258

THE EFFECT OF SCARCITY MESSAGE ON CONSUMER’S PURCHASE INTENTION IN THE INTERNET SHOPPING MALL

Yunkyoung Bae, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Korea

Sukekyu Lee, Sungkyunkwan University, Korea

ABSTRACT -

The purpose of this study is to examine the effect of scarcity messages on the consumer’s purchase intention in an Internet shopping mall. Specifically, we explore the effect of a scarcity message on the consumer’s purchase intention using the product involvement and consumer’s product knowledge as moderators. The results show that a scarcity message is more effective than a non-scarcity message on the consumer’s purchase intention in the Internet shopping mall. And the effect of a scarcity message on the consumer’s purchase intention is found to be moderated by product involvement and consumer’s product knowledge. Furthermore, the effect of scarcity message on the consumer’s purchase intention is found to effective when the level of product involvement or consumer’s product knowledge is low. This study gives the implication that Internet shopping mall companies should consider the level of product involvement and consumer’s product knowledge when they use the scarcity message.

INTRODUCTION

There is a growing interest in how consumers respond to persuasion attempts by marketers and how various persuasion tactics impact their behavior (Friestad and Wright 1994). Scarcity claims, one of the persuasion tactics, have a powerful impact on consumer’s purchase behavior. Because the items and opportunities appear more attractive as they become less available (Lynn, 1991). The scarcity heuristic is demonstrated by the results of a consumer preferences study conducted by many researchers (Bozzolo and Brock, 1992; Fromkin, 1968, 1970, 1971; Kelman, 1953; Knishinky, 1982 ; Lynn, 1989,1991,1992; Verhallen and Robben, 1994, West, 1975). But prior researches limit our understanding of the scarcity effect.

The purpose of this study is to examine (1) the effect of scarcity message on a consumer’s purchase intention in the Internet shopping mall, (2) whether a consumer’s level of involvement and product knowledge moderate the effect of a scarcity message on his/her consumer’s purchase intention. The result of this study can add further insights into the usefulness of scarcity claims as a means of developing persuasion tactics.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

Scarcity

With scarcity operating powerfully on the worth assigned to things, it should not be surprising that compliance professionals have a variety of techniques designed to convert this power to compliance. Cialdini (1985) classified the scarcity message into two types: the message with quantity limit, and the message with time limit. Quantity limit is a tactic in which the customer is informed that products or services exist in a limited supply that cannot be guaranteed to last for long (ie. "limited number offer", "100EA only sale"). Time limit is a "deadline" technique in which an official time limit is placed on the consumer’s opportunity to get what is being offered (ie. "last three days", "one-week-only sale"). Thus, consumers are told that unless they make an immediate purchase decision, they will have to buy the item at a higher price, or they will not be able to purchase it at all.

In a study by Knishinsky(1982), wholesale beef buyers who were told of an impending imported beef shortage purchased significantly more beef when they were informed that the shortage information came from the importer’s "exclusive" contacts. Furthermore, in a study on the effect of scarcity on perceived monetary value, identical Nabisco brand cookies were sold to groups of people with differing reports on their availability and scarcity. The people who got only two cookies rated them as more desirable to eat, more attractive, and expressed a willingness to pay a higher price for the product than did the people who received an abundant supply of the identical cookies (Worchel, Lee and Adewole, 1975). Apparently, the fact that item was scarce made it more valued and desirable.

The principle of scarcity appears to draw its power from three sources.

First, items that are difficult to obtain are nearly always more desirable than those that require little effort (Lynn, 1992). Thus, the scarcity of an item alone provides a frequently accurate cue as to that item’s desirability (Cialdini,1993; Ditto and Jemmott, 1989). This allows scarcity to be employed as a heuristic cue in decision-making.

The second mechanism that fuels the principle of scarcity is the unrelenting desire to preserve freedom of choice. Protecting freedom is the centerpiece of Psychological Reactance Theory (Brehm and Brehm, 1981). According to the theory, whenever our freedoms are limited or threatened, the need to retain those freedoms makes us want them (as well as the goods and services associated with them) significantly more than before.

Third, according to the prevailing heuristic account, scarcity is considered to be a cue to value, such "what is rare is good" (Cialdini, 1993; Lynn, 1992) or "what is scarce is extreme" (Ditto and Jemmott,1989). Cialdini (1993) used terms such as "automatic influence", "click-whirr responding," and "brain clouding arousal" to characterize the knee-jerk "mindless" responsiveness of persons to scarcity information.

Elaboration Likelihood Model

The Elaboration Likelihood Model(ELM) (Petty and Cacioppo, 1986) of persuasion tells us the processes yielding to a persuasive communication and strength of the attitudes that result from those processes. In an advertising context, the model holds that the process responsible for ad effectiveness is one of two relatively distinct routes to persuasion.

The first route to persuasion is known as the "central route" involves effortful cognitive activity. When elaboration likelihood is high, individuals focus their attention on message relevant ad information.

The other route to persuasion is known as the "peripheral route". When elaboration likelihood is low, individuals do not think much about message content; instead, they use non-content elements associated with the message (i.e., peripheral cues) as a basis for attitude formation. Peripheral cues can be the number of message arguments, source characteristics, music, affective reactions generated by the ad etc.

Whether an individual will follow the central or peripheral route to persuasion is determined by the likelihood of elaboration, which, in turn, is influenced by the individual’s motivation and ability to process.

FIGURE 1

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

HYPOTHESES

A large number of researchers proved the effect of a scarcity message in off-line.

This study examines the effect of scarcity message on the consumer’s purchase intention in the Internet shopping mall. And we explore the effect of a scarcity message on the consumer’s purchase intention using the product involvement and consumer’s product knowledge as moderators.

The overall outline of our conceptual framework is presented in figure 1.

The effect of a scarcity message in the Internet shopping mall

If consumers are presented with an interesting item in the Internet shopping mall, they can purchase with a single click. The ease of on-click purchasing can foster impulse buying. Scarcity messages bolster the impulse-buying atmosphere because of the added sense of urgency. Therefore, scarcity messages in the Internet shopping mall will be more effective than non-scarcity message.

Based on this discussion, the hypotheses of this study are as follow:

H1-1: The scarcity message with time limit on consumer’s purchase intention in the Internet shopping mall will be more effective than non-scarcity message.

H1-2: The scarcity message with quantity limit on consumer’s purchase intention in the Internet shopping mall will be more effective than non-scarcity message.

The moderating effect of product involvement

The quality of the argument contained in a message has had a greater impact on persuasion under conditions of high rather than low involvement (Petty and Cacioppo, 1979; Petty, Cacioppo, and Heesacker,1981). On the other hand, peripheral cues such as the expertise or attractiveness of a message source (Chaiken, 1980; Petty, Cacioppo, and Goldman,1981; Rhine and Severance, 1970) have had a greater impact on persuasion under conditions of low rather than high involvement. In sum, under high involvement conditions, people appear to exert the cognitive effort required to evaluate the issue- relevant arguments presented, and their attitudes are a function of this information-processing activity (central route). Under low involvement conditions, attitudes appear to be affected by simple acceptance and rejection cues in the persuasion context and are less affected by argument quality (peripheral routes).

Thus, the vital implication of the ELM for advertising messages is that different kinds of appeals may be most effective for different audiences. A person who purchases a high involvement product may scrutinize the product-relevant information presented in an advertisement. On the other hand, a person who purchases a low involvement product will not expend the effort required to think about the product-relevant arguments in the ad, but may instead focus on the product-irrelevant information.

Scarcity messages may be peripheral cues, because of the product-irrelevant information. So, the effect of scarcity messages on a consumer’s purchase intention will be greater when product involvement is low rather than high.

Based on this discussion, the hypotheses of this study are as follow:

H2-1: The effect of scarcity messages with time limit on consumer’s purchase intention will be greater when product involvement is low than when product involvement is high.

H2-2: The effect of scarcity messages with quantity limit on consumer’s purchase intention will be greater when product involvement is low than when product involvement is high.

The moderating effect of consumer’s product knowledge

People become more able to think about issue-relevant information when they have more consumer knowledge (Alba and Hutchinson, 1987). Knowledge is only effective, however, when it is inaccessible (Brucks, 1985). When knowledge is low or inaccessible, people rely on simple cues (Brucks, 1985). Knowledge may also interact with the mode of information presentation. For high knowledge consumer, the attraction effect decreases when information is presented numerically but increases when information is presented verbally (Sen, 1998).

FIGURE 2

Consumer’s knowledge can also influence the way people process information. Experts (those with more product knowledge) tend to engage in more detailed processing when there is an incongruity between the headline and the body copy of a message (Sujan, 1985). Experts are also more likely to process a message in detail when given only attribute information, while novices are more likely to do so when given benefit information (Maheswaran and Stermthal, 1990). Experts elaborate on messages in an evaluative manner, whereas novices tend to process message more literally (Maheswaran and Stermthal, 1990).

According to ELM, whether an individual will follow the central or peripheral route to persuasion is influenced by the individual’s motivation and ability to process. The consumer’s knowledge is engaged in an individual’s ability to process. Therefore, high knowledge consumers may pay attention to product-relevant information (central cues), while low knowledge consumers focused on product-irrelevant information (peripheral cues).

Scarcity messages may be peripheral cues rather than central cues. Therefore, the effect of scarcity messages on a consumer’s purchase intention will be greater when the consumer’s product knowledge is low than when the consumer’s product knowledge level is high.

Based on this discussion, the hypotheses of this study are as follow

H3-1: The effect of scarcity messages with time limit on the consumer’s purchase intention will be greater when the consumer’s product knowledge is low than when the consumer’s product knowledge level is high.

H3-2: The effect of scarcity messages with quantity limit on consumer’s purchase intention will be greater when the consumer’s product knowledge is low than when product knowledge level is high.

Our hypotheses are displayed in figure 2.

METHOD

Design and Procedure

A group of 294 subjects participated in the 3x2x2 experiment manipulating scarcity message type ( message with time limit/message with quantity limit/non-scarcity message(control variable)), product involvement (high/low) and consumer’s product knowledge(high/low).

The design and stimuli are summarized in table 1.

Two papers were prepared for the study. The first contained the advertising stimuli and the second contained the variables’ measures. Subjects were asked to read an advertisement for the product (laptop computer or hair drier), and then to indicate their purchase intention for the product.

Manipulations and Stimuli

Involvement. Product involvement was measured by ten items from the Personal Involvement Inventory (PII) proposed by Zaichkowsky (1985). Although the original Personal Involvement Inventory consisted of twenty, seven point semantic differential items, subsequent research (Babakus, 1992) has found that a reduced set of items sufficiently measured the involvement construct.

Consumer’s product knowledge. Previous studies have used both subjective and objective measures to assess the knowledge levels of consumers. The knowledge assessment for this study used subjective measures that included estimates of familiarity (Park and Lessig, 1981), experience (Punj and Staelin, 1983).

Purchase intentions. Purchase intentions for specific product were measured by the two, seven point Likert type items of 1) It is probable that I would buy a product, 2) It is likely I would buy a product (Mackenzie, Lutz, and Belch, 1986). These statements were anchored by Strongly Agree (7) to Strongly Disagree (1).

TABLE 1

TABLE 2

TABLE 3

RESULTS

Analyses were conducted T-test and ANOVA (scarcity message: high vs. low involvement, high vs. low of level consumer’s product knowledge).

Manipulation Checks

Involvement. Product involvement was measured by ten items from the Personal Involvement Inventory(PII) proposed by Zaichkowsky(1985). Cronbach’s alpha was 0.9388 and the table 2 presents that the involvement was manipulated successfully.

Consumer’s product knowledge. Product knowledge was measured using five items collected from Park and Lessig(1981) and Punj and Staelin(1983) (?=.8640). A median spilt on the summed knowledge scores resulted in 119 HKCs and 175 LKCs. The difference between the scores for the HKCs (M=5.21) and the LKCs (M=2.48) was significant (p<.0001).

The effect of scarcity message in the Internet shopping mall

Hypothesis 1-1 posited that the scarcity message with time limit on consumer’s purchase intention in the Internet shopping mall would be more effective than the non-scarcity message. As predicted, the consumer’s purchase intentions to the scarcity message with time limit were more positive than those to the non-scarcity message (see TABLE 3). The result of a ANOVA yielded a significant main effect for scarcity message ( see TABLE 4).

Hypothesis 1-2 predicted that the scarcity message with quantity limit on consumer’s purchase intention in the Internet shopping mall would be more effective than the non-scarcity message. As expected, the consumer’s intention index to the scarcity message with quantity limit was greater than those to the non-scarcity message (see TABLE 3). The result of a ANOVA yielded a significant main effect for the scarcity message ( see TABLE 5).

Therefore, hypothesis 1-1 and 1-2 are supported.

The moderating effect of product involvement

Hypothesis 2-1 posited that the effect of a scarcity message with time limit on consumer’s purchase intention would be greater when product involvement was low rather than when product involvement was high. From table 6 we see that the consumer’s purchase intentions to the scarcity message with time limit were more positive when product involvement was low rather than when product involvement was high. As table 4 indicated the result of a ANOVA yielded significant interaction effect (scarcity message * Involvement).

Hypothesis 2-2 predicted the effect of a scarcity message with quantity on consumer’s purchase intention would be greater when product involvement was low than when product involvement was high. From table 6, we see that the consumer’s purchase intentions to scarcity message with time quantity were more positive when product involvement was low rather than when product involvement was high. As table 5 indicated the result of a ANOVA yielded significant interaction effect (scarcity message * Involvement).

Therefore, hypothesis 2-1 and 2-2 are supported.

TABLE 4

The moderating effect of consumer’s product knowledge

Hypothesis 3-1 posited that the effect of a scarcity message with time limit on consumer’s purchase intention would be greater when consumer’s product knowledge was low than when consumer’s product knowledge level was high. From table 7, we see that the consumer’s purchase intentions to a scarcity message with time limit were more positive when product involvement was low rather than when product involvement was high. As table 4 indicated that the result of a ANOVA yielded significant interaction effect (scarcity message * Involvement).

Hypothesis 3-2 predicted the effect of a scarcity message with quantity limit on consumer’s purchase intention would be greater when consumer’s product knowledge was low than when product knowledge level was high. From table 7 we see that the consumer’s purchase intentions to a scarcity message with time quantity were more positive when product involvement is low than when product involvement is high. As table 5 indicated that the result of a ANOVA yielded significant interaction effect (scarcity message * Involvement).

Therefore, hypothesis 3-1 and 3-2 are supported.

DISCUSSION

A large number of researchers proved the effect of a scarcity message in off-line. But this study presented that the effect of a scarcity message in Internet shopping and that the effect of a scarcity message on the consumer’s purchase intention using the product involvement and consumer’s product knowledge as moderators. The results revealed in this study extend the findings of these studies that scarcity and purchase intention are related.

This experiment showed that 1) a scarcity message is more effective than a non-scarcity message on a consumer’s purchase intention in the Internet shopping mall, 2) the effect of a scarcity message on a consumer’s purchase intention is greater when product involvement is low than when product involvement is high, 3) the effect of a scarcity message on a consumer’s purchase intention is greater when consumer’s product knowledge level is low than when a consumer’s product knowledge level is high.

The results have implications for research on the effect of scarcity messages.

First, we find that the scarcity message is effective on-line as well as off-line. Second, the results of the study reveal that the effects of a scarcity message were moderated by involvement or consumer’s product knowledge. A practical implication of our study is that the scarcity message is effective in the low involvement or the low level of consumer’s product knowledge. Furthermore, Internet shopping mall companies should consider involvement and consumer’s product knowledge level when they use a scarcity message.

The results of this study have the following limitations.

First, the results are based on twenties or thirties samples. Second, the effect of scarcity messages was measured in just the consumer’s purchase intention. Further research should explore consumer’s brand attitude or attitude toward advertisement when consumers read information that includes a scarcity message. Further studies on the difference between the effects of on-line and off-line advertising will be needed.

TABLE 5

TABLE 6

TABLE 7

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