Special Session Summary Affordability Perceptions in Consumer Research

Arti Sahni Notani, University of San Diego
[ to cite ]:
Arti Sahni Notani (1997) ,"Special Session Summary Affordability Perceptions in Consumer Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, eds. Merrie Brucks and Deborah J. MacInnis, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 217.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, 1997      Page 217



Arti Sahni Notani, University of San Diego

Consumers commonly desire to own products that they cannot afford to buy. While the impact of affordability on consumers’ purchase behavior has aroused considerable interest among marketing practitioners (e.g., Hancock 1993; Serafin and Johnson 1995), this issue has received little attention among consumer researchers. Economic theory recognizes that consumers, when attempting to maximize utility, are limited by their budgets. However, consumer researchers, like psychologists, have tried to predict behavior based solely on preference, neglecting the cost or sacrifice element that entails almost every behavior.

Inspite of it’s roots in economics, marketing does not share the economist’s wholistic view of consumption. A reason for this is that over time marketing, especially, consumer behavior, has aligned itself more closely with psychology (Leong 1989). This has occurred because the objectives of marketing had more in common with objectives of psychology than that of economics, i.e., explanation and prediction of individual behavior (Mittelstaedt 1990). Microeconomics focuses on aggregates such as price levels, total production and consumption. The differences in the disciplines notwithstanding, greater insight into behavior of consumers can be gained by integrating psychological and economic aspects (van Raaij 1981).

Affordability perceptions are a subjective evaluation of one’s economic status, and thus could be considered a psychological manifestation of an economic variable. The purpose of this session is to introduce this new variable into the study of consumer behavior. All three papers in this session examine the role of affordability perceptions in consumer research, albeit from diverse perspectives. The first paper sheds light on the topic by using the framework provided by the discipline of economic psychology. The second paper examines the topic by relating it to frameworks provided by the attitude and price perception literatures. The third paper examines te importance of this topic for the government.

In the first paper, van Raaij elaborated on the theoretical and empirical issues involved in introducing this new variable to consumer research. He described why the concept of affordability can be useful for macro Indices of Consumer Sentiment and Consumer Confidence, well-being, and more micro variables like consumption attitudes, willingness and ability to buy, and the attitude-intention-purchase relationship. The relationship of affordability to individual personality variables like materialism, consumer confidence was also discussed. Further, implications of using a perceptual measure of affordability instead of objective measures (e.g., household income) commonly employed in marketing research were discussed. He extended the affordability conceptC- mostly thought of as financial costsC-to temporal and behavioral (effort) costs as well. His discussion of the various macro, micro and individual variables culminated with an integrative model that showed the interrelationships among these variables by categorizing them as antecendents and consequents.

In the second paper, Notani examined the role of affordability perceptions in the consumer purchase decision process by incorporating it into the attitude and price perception frameworks. The study identified the process by which affordability perceptions interact with price beliefs, attitudes, and perceived value to influence both purchase intent and actual purchase. Second, the study revealed that the relationship of affordability perceptions with the above mentioned variables is dependent upon whether it is purchase intent or actual purchase that is of interest to the researcher. Specifically, the effect of affordability on purchase intent was not mediated by variables like attitude and perceived value. However, when actual purchase instead of purchase intent was examined, attitude and perceived value fully mediated the effect of affordability. Third, affordability perceptions were embedded in the nomological net of the price perception framework to test alternate model configurations. It was found that affordability is best seen as an immediate antecedent of purchase intent. Finally, future research directions were provided. In particular, it was suggested that this topic be explored using the experimental method so that affordability could be manipulated (perhaps by providing credit cards to the experimental group) to isolate cause and effect.

In the third paper, Garner presented results of a research program developed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, that uses respondents’ subjective assessments of their incomes and expenditures for use in surveys sponsored by the Federal Government. The qualitative methodology which uses cognitive interviews, concurrent thin-alouds and focus groups was discussed. The results of this methodology were discussed with respect to how respondents: (1) interpret terms used in subjective assessments of income and expenditures, (2) use the various response categories, and (3) are affected by the order in which these questions are asked. Further, she described new research strategies that use subjective assessments of financial need to increase our understanding of policy implications of reduced economic circumstances .

Kent Monroe synthesized the papers and led a skillful discussion on the need, usefulness, and future research possibilities of the topic of affordability. The discussion led to the realization of the broad scope and practical applications of the concept of affordability.


Hancock, K. E., 1993. Can Pay? Won’t Pay? or Economic Principles of 'Affordability’. Urban Studies 0 (1), 127.

Leong, Siew Meng (1989), "A Citation Analysis of the Journal of Consumer Research," Journal of Consumer Research, 15 (march), 492-497.

Mittelstaedt, Robert A. (1990), "Economics, Psychology, and the Literature of the Subdiscipline of Consumer Behavior," Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 18, 303-311.

van Raaij, W. Fred (1981), "Economic Psychology," Journal of Economic Psychology, 1, 1-24.

Serafin, R. and B. Johnson, 1995. Sticker Shock Relief: Automakers Find Ways to Push Affordability. Advertising Age 66 (8), February 20, p. 1.