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Consumers' guilt mitigation vis-à-vis discomfort with ambiguity

Rahul Kumar Sett (Department of Marketing, Indian Institute of Management Nagpur, Nagpur, India)

Marketing Intelligence & Planning

ISSN: 0263-4503

Article publication date: 15 May 2020

Issue publication date: 1 October 2020



The purpose of this paper is to empirically establish the boundary conditions of the guilt mitigation process that consumers resort to in justifying consumption under contextual ambiguity, with respect to consumers' discomfit with ambiguity. While well observed, the process of guilt mitigation is less articulated with respect to contextually relevant consumers’ personality trait(s) (such as, discomfort with ambiguity) that may affect decision-making idiosyncratically. This gap is addressed herewith.


Three experiments were conducted across two studies to establish the boundary conditions of guilt mitigation in the specific context of transactions involving trade-ins. In doing so, consumers' direct price imputation or, indirectly, their relative preference for financially equivalent, but structurally distinct, price structures was measured. Guilt was induced among consumers by directly manipulating consumers' degree of attachment with their old product (the trade-in).


Results indicate that consumers resort to guilt mitigation in justifying consumption more extensively when they harbor higher levels of discomfort with ambiguity, not otherwise – the moderating effects of consumers' discomfort with ambiguity or the boundary condition under study.

Research limitations/implications

Hypothetical buying scenarios, albeit constructed based on field information and subsequently tested for realism, were used to conduct the experiments, versus field experiments using real consumers. Further, the respondent pool comprised of Indian nationals only. These remain the primary limitations of this research.

Practical implications

The findings indicate that managers may be able to construe deals in a manner that promotes self-segmentation by consumers, especially when consumers harbor greater discomfort with ambiguity. This, in turn, implies reduction in consumer heterogeneity and a concomitant increase in marketing efficiency.


By considering consumers' discomfort with ambiguity in this research, the efficacy of the guilt mitigation process was established with respect to a contextually relevant individual difference factor. While the fundamentally constructive nature of guilt mitigation necessitates such considerations, this research gap, thus addressed, remained unaddressed hitherto.



Sett, R.K. (2020), "Consumers' guilt mitigation vis-à-vis discomfort with ambiguity", Marketing Intelligence & Planning, Vol. 38 No. 7, pp. 975-990.



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