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The role of brands in the behavior and purchase decisions of compulsive versus noncompulsive buyers

Csilla Horváth (Institute for Management Research, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands)
Marcel van Birgelen (Institute for Management Research, Radboud Iniversity, Nijmegen, Netherlands)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 9 February 2015




This article investigates the role that brands play in influencing the behavior and purchase decisions of compulsive buyers and whether this role differs for noncompulsive buyers, resulting in four research propositions.


In-depth interviews, conducted with ten compulsive and ten noncompulsive buyers, reveal several interesting differences between the groups.


The findings reveal several interesting differences between compulsive buyers and noncompulsive buyers. Noncompulsive buyers seem to appreciate and focus mainly on functional benefits of branded products and avoid buying unbranded products, whereas compulsive buyers value emotional and social benefits but often decide to buy “more and cheaper” items to achieve variety in their purchases. Noncompulsive buyers develop brand trust in, attachment to and higher willingness to pay for their favorite brand than for other brands, whereas compulsive buyers even struggle to name a favorite brand. Furthermore, compulsive buyers engage in more brand switching than noncompulsive buyers.

Research limitations/implications

While this research provides the first, in-depth findings, a large-scale survey research is called for to provide statistically valid tests of the authors ' propositions.

Practical implications

The findings indicate that compulsive and noncompulsive buyers seek different benefits of brands. Stressing the good quality should be particularly effective for noncompulsive buyers, whereas compulsive buyers will be triggered more effectively by claims about the emotional benefits. This finding has obvious implications for brand communication strategies but also raises an important ethical dilemma. The findings further indicate that compulsive buyers react to branded products in ways that may hurt brands with high brand equity. These, therefore, have an incentive to help compulsive buyers overcome this problem, rather than encouraging them in their buying behavior.

Social implications

Considering the harmful effects of compulsive buying behavior on a person’s well-being, manufacturers and retailers should take corporate social responsibility in this situation and help society deal with it, using both proactive and reactive methods. For example, to facilitate the early identification of this type of behavior, retailers might stimulate customers to think about their purchasing motivations and inform them about the risks of compulsive buying. They could initiate the development, support or sponsorship of a “Shop Responsibly” campaign to help customers avoid such buying behaviors. Not only would these efforts increase customer satisfaction and loyalty, but they could boost the public image of the firm as a responsible organization that cares for societal well-being.


This is the first study to investigate how compulsive buyers approach brands and whether they approach brands differently from noncompulsive buyers. It can draw attention to and encourage future research in this important area.



The authors would like to thank Professor Susan Dobscha and the two anonymous reviewers for their useful suggestions on the manuscript. They feel that their feedback helped improve the paper substantially.


Horváth, C. and Birgelen, M.v. (2015), "The role of brands in the behavior and purchase decisions of compulsive versus noncompulsive buyers", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 49 No. 1/2, pp. 2-21.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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