Research demonstrates that individuals display relative thinking – the tendency to consider relative savings rather than just absolute savings in their decisions to search for a deal or purchase an item. This paper aims to review empirical and analytical literature on relative thinking, perceived search costs and price savings to propose and test a conceptual model of relative thinking.
Through two studies, the paper tests whether individuals display relative thinking when shopping across stores vs online and how they perceive search and time spent in pursuing savings. Both studies are adaptations of the classic jacket-and-calculator scenario study (Tversky and Kahneman, 1981).
Results show attenuation of the robust relative thinking phenomenon over the internet compared to shopping across stores. Individuals exhibit increased price sensitivity for both low and high relative savings conditions on the internet but demonstrate price sensitivity only in the high relative savings condition in the store shopping contexts. Diagnostic measures pertaining to the attractiveness of savings and the perceptions of search costs corroborate the support for relative thinking across stores but not over the internet.
These results lend weight to the central claim in this paper that the internet marks a new boundary condition for the relative thinking phenomenon in marketing literature. Theoretical and managerial implications of the findings, the limitations of the studies and future research opportunities are discussed.
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