Consumers' “mental accounting” in response to unexpected price savings at the point of sale

Hwan Ho Ha (Jinju National University, Jinju, Korea)
Jung Suk Hyun (Cheju National University, Cheju, Korea)
Jae H. Pae (Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Kowloon, Hong Kong, People's Republic of China)

Marketing Intelligence & Planning

ISSN: 0263-4503

Publication date: 1 June 2006



To investigate shoppers' decision‐making behaviour under conditions of expected and unexpected in‐store price discounts, using mental accounting theory as the analytical framework.


In an experiment manipulating expected and unexpected discounts on electronic organisers and portable audio players, data collected by questionnaire from 240 first‐year business administration students at a Korean university were used to test two hypotheses predicting the ways in which the savings would be used.


Recipients of unexpected discounts tend to spend the savings in store. If a choice of two products is available, the savings are more likely to be applied to the discounted one than the other. Shoppers commit more actively to planned purchases when price discounts are known in advance. The key factor in purchasing behaviour with respect to discounts is the existence or otherwise of predictions. Shoppers' decision‐making in these conditions is, therefore, context and frame dependent.

Research limitations/implications

The experimental subjects were not representative of the general shopping population, and Korea is a distinctive culture. The findings should be interpreted with caution, but are indicative within limits. Aspects of the topic not investigated by the experiment are identified, and future research directions suggested.

Practical implications

Unadvertised discount available at the point of sale offer several potential benefits to retailers, including reduced costs and increased patronage. Pricing strategists need to understand the theoretical basis of customers' behaviour in response to discount offers, for effective planning.


Adds to the body of knowledge relating to crucial aspect of pricing strategy, and has potential applicability beyond retailing.



Ho Ha, H., Suk Hyun, J. and Pae, J. (2006), "Consumers' “mental accounting” in response to unexpected price savings at the point of sale", Marketing Intelligence & Planning, Vol. 24 No. 4, pp. 406-416.

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