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To forgive or retaliate? How regulatory fit affects emotional reactions and repurchase decisions following product failures

Gizem Atav (Department of Marketing, James Madison University College of Business, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA)
Subimal Chatterjee (School of Management, Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York, USA)
Rajat Roy (Bond Business School, Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 15 June 2021

Issue publication date: 29 June 2021




When a product fails out of negligence on the seller’s part, consumers can either retaliate against the seller, more so if a third party encourages them to do so, or forgive the seller should the seller express remorse. This paper aims to examine how the fit between the consumer’s promotion/prevention regulatory orientation and the promotion/prevention frame of a message of contrition (retaliation), such as an apology from a chief executive officer (CEO) (a class action suit threat by a lawyer), affects such forgiveness (retaliation) intentions in the form of product repurchase decisions.


In two laboratory experiments, this paper temporally induces a promotion or prevention orientation in the study participants and thereafter ask them to imagine experiencing a product failure and listening to (1) the CEO apologize for the harm (eliciting sympathy/encouraging repurchase); or (2) a lawyer inviting them to seek damages for the harm (eliciting anger/discouraging repurchase). This paper frames the messages from the CEO/lawyer such that they fit either with a promotion mindset or with a prevention mindset.


This paper finds that, following a message of apology, a frame-focus fit (compared to a frame-focus misfit) elicits sympathy and encourages repurchase universally across promotion and prevention-oriented consumers. However, following a message encouraging retaliation, the same fit elicits anger and discourages repurchase more among prevention-oriented than promotion-oriented consumers.


Although past research has investigated how regulatory fit affects forgiveness intentions, this paper fills three research gaps therein by (a) addressing both forgiveness and retaliation intentions, (b) deconstructing the fit-induced “just right feelings” by exploring their underlying emotions of sympathy and anger, and (c) showing that fit effects are not universal across promotion and prevention-oriented consumers. For practice, the results suggest that managers can lessen the fallout from product failures by putting consumers in a promotion mindset that strengthens the effect of a promotion-framed apology and inoculates them against all types of retaliatory messages.



Atav, G., Chatterjee, S. and Roy, R. (2021), "To forgive or retaliate? How regulatory fit affects emotional reactions and repurchase decisions following product failures", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 38 No. 4, pp. 397-409.



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