Critical Review: Consumer Embarrassment Essay Sample

Critical Review: Consumer Embarrassment


The study of emotions has been gaining increasing significance in regard to consumer behaviour. Embarrassment is a negative emotion that appears as a result of self-assessment and actually arises in a social context. The major aim of the Nichols, B.S., Raska, D. and Flint, D. (2015) paper is to contribute to the knowledge and understanding of how Millennial customers manage with embarrassing purchasing tasks and how embarrassment impacts store-level outputs incorporating the value and size of the shopping basket. The impacts of consumer embarrassment exacerbate beyond the apparent category of typically studied and examined products, including laxatives and condoms. In fact, the display of embarrassment affects a lot of industries, including online dating, the weight-loss industry, together with the plus-size clothing industry. The authors vividly demonstrate the extensive and prevalent affect of consumer embarrassment. Despite the fact that the study reveals the possible causes of consumer embarrassment, it is also important to understand how to address feasible methods of mitigating the embarrassment in a tentative of enhancing consumption decisions.


The authors present four hypothesizes, two of which are based on a previous assumption. Thus, the first hypothesis states that “the shopping basket size (number of items in the basket) will be larger for participants purchasing an embarrassing product than those who do not” (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015, p. 42). The second hypothesis ensues from the first one and assumes that: “the shopping basket value will be higher for participants purchasing an embarrassing product than those who do not” (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015, p. 42). The third hypothesis is based on the fact that consumers appear to be particularly conscious concerning additional spending, instead of shopping thoughtlessly, due to a cognitive tentative necessary for the successful masking of the embarrassing product ( regarding TPB). Therefore, the third hypothesis is as follows: “shoppers who are purchasing an embarrassing product will be able to accurately estimate the cost of their shopping trip” (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015, p. 42). Despite the fact that some people perceive the action of obtaining particular personal care products as intimidating, horrifying, and highly embarrassing, it seems that other people might not demonstrate this specific concern. This discrepancy is probably connected to individual predisposition to embarrassment.

The authors recognize the fact that the potentiality of experiencing or feeling embarrassment differs from individual to individual, and should be regarded as a significant individual feature. This is the main reason why the authors present the fourth hypothesis that states: “susceptibility to embarrassment will moderate the findings of H1 and H2 such that those high (low) in the trait should have higher (lower) (a) basket sizes and (b) basket value” (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015, p. 43).

Therefore, in order to analyse and support all hypothesizes, the authors conducted three studies. The first study was designed in a form of an investigative experiment (experiment validity), which could assist them in gaining a present-day report of how Millennial customers cope with embarrassing purchases in the drug store environment. This could help in discerning to which extent the masking will probably transpire. The authors did not focus on one particular product (for instance, condoms), as they desired to learn about other products, which might stimulate masking conducts. The study analysed the behaviour of 65 marketing students and demonstrated that 67 percent of the participants noted that they previously had applied a masking strategy while performing an embarrassing acquisition (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015). The answers given by those who noticed themselves as embarrassed concerned the products connected to sexual health (40 percent), feminine care (40 percent), digestive health (16 percent), foot care, and weight loss products. These products appear to be most severely connected with the masking conduct (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015). The study also demonstrated that 88 percent of participants confirmed obtaining extra items in an attempt to mask the embarrassing product, including groceries (40 percent), magazines (20 percent), personal care products, clothing, application of self-control, and bringing another individual (for instance, a parent) (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015). The study also demonstrated that 48 percent of the participants acknowledged that their motivation to apply the masking conduct concerned the attempt to avoid embarrassment from people in general (32 percent), those people who they knew (8 percent), and cashiers (8 percent) (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015).

The second study the authors conducted utilised an empirical approach in order to understand the extent to which one essential subcategory of Millennial customers felt embarrassed while purchasing individual care products (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015). The authors estimated and analysed particular outcomes, which might single out the significance of the masking phenomenon. This was the study in which the authors firstly analysed how embarrassment-connected masking conducts impact the general basket value and size during drug store shopping (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015). Secondly, they analysed how personal discrepancies connected to embarrassment impacted the above-mentioned effect. The study was subdivided into two phrases, the pre-test and an experimental design, which tested the behavioural discrepancies between a non-embarrassing and an embarrassing task of obtaining particular products (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015). This study supported authors’ first hypothesis as the utilization of independent t-tests demonstrated that a serious discrepancy in the shopping basket size appeared in those participants who acted in the embarrassment condition. They averagely purchased 1.54 more products than the participants who acted in the non-embarrassment state (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015). Moreover, this study also supported author’s second hypothesis because the application of independent t-tests revealed a serious discrepancy between the values of the shopping baskets (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015). The authors concluded that in situations when people encountered the feeling of embarrassment, they demonstrated a mild predisposition to buy more items, which leads to a serious elevation of the shopping occasion value. Generally speaking, when people had to purchase an embarrassing product, they typically spent $5.00 more on their total shopping (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015). This study also helped in supporting the third hypothesis as in both the non-embarrassment and embarrassment subcategories participants were capable of accurately estimating how much they spent due to the fact that their factual basket values were essentially corresponding to their spending estimates (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015). The authors conducted a paired t-test between the estimates and actual basket values, and they did not appear to be significant for either subcategory. In addition, the authors supported their fourth hypothesis since the study revealed that those Millennial customers who are highly receptive to embarrassment appeared to be even more inclined to become engaged in masking conducts, which lead to more expensive shopping occasions (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015).

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The authors conducted the third study attempting to enlarge the findings of the second study, which integrated them into the balanced basket hypothesis. This was the study where authors presented and supported four additional hypothesizes. Hypothesis five supposed that an extra purchase, which complemented the embarrassing product, would aggravate masking conduct, leading to bigger basket sizes (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015, p. 48). Hypothesis six suggested that an extra purchase complementing the embarrassing product would lead to higher basket values contrary to the purchase of only the embarrassing product (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015, p. 48). Hypothesis seven indicated that an extra purchase, which counterbalanced the embarrassing product, would lead to the attenuation of masking conduct, resulting in smaller basket sizes (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015, p. 48). Finally, the eighth hypothesis suggested that an extra purchase, which counterbalanced the embarrassing product, would result in lower basket values (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015, p. 48). The study split the participants into Millennial (aged 27 or younger) and non- Millennial (aged 27 and older) subcategories. The outcomes demonstrated that Millennial customers had bigger basket sizes and values contrary to non-Millennial customers in the case when they purchased the embarrassing product with a complement. This showed that Millennial customers appeared to be more inclined to apply conduct changes as a reaction to an unwanted identification (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015, p. 48).

Therefore, the article vividly demonstrated that the emotion of embarrassment might result in significant retail outputs, which should not be neglected. The authors suggest that retail managers should take the outcomes of this study into account, especially when regarding the issues concerned with the store experience.

Critical Review

The authors appear to strongly back their studies and analysis, utilizing the explanation of embarrassment, Theory of Planned Behaviour, and masking as a cognitive copying strategy. Embarrassment is presented to be a typical emotion, which is experienced by practically each person, and is believed to be a standard and natural constituent of human practice (Blair & Roese 2013). Embarrassment is felt in situations when an individual’s conduct is not gaining social acceptance, and in situations when an individual believes that the behaviour might damage necessary and appropriate societal individuality and recognition (Gao, Wheeler & Shiv 2009). The authors demonstrate that the theories of social anxiety are frequently utilised to expound the feeling of embarrassment, advocating that this emotion comes up to the surface when an individual is concerned that others will estimate them as disappointing and dissatisfying (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015). Despite the fact that people of any age may find themselves in embarrassing situations from time to time, the authors suggest that apperception and perceptions of embarrassment reach an all-time high level throughout the late adolescence, specifically due to the fact that adolescents demonstrate a tendency to be very concerned with how other people apprehend them (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015). The authors present the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB), as it explains how individual convictions about what other people think together with the perspectives concerning particular in-store conducts generate cognitive attempts to control behaviour and the outer effect presented to other people. Thus, embarrassment stimulates the conduct in particular situations when an individual is afraid of personal standards, which determine the emotions (Duhachek, Agrawal & Han 2012). In accordance with TPB, behavioural patterns depend on both the motive and the intent of enacting particular conduct. In regard to embarrassing purchase occasions, TPB can be utilised in order to demonstrate that people deliberately plan and accept shopping conducts that help them in reducing societal dismissal and discernment, which they assume an embarrassing product might agitate, even regardless of the fact that an embarrassing product is not regarded as a taboo (Blair & Roese 2013). The authors believe that this information focuses on the significance of how expected emotions connected with embarrassing behaviour affect planned conducts (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015).

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The authors also explain masking that stands for a cognitive coping strategy (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015). Due to the fact that consumers encounter emotive pressure, they create coping strategies in order to elude undesired attention in situations they regard as embarrassing while shopping. The authors use a number of research and studies in order to demonstrate that a shopping trip, which is stimulated by the necessity to buy an embarrassing product, should have visible and detectable impact on the structure of the shopping basket, contrary to shopping trips that are stimulated by a non-embarrassing one. Thus, the first logical assumption made by the authors concerned the fact that shopping baskets would appear to have more items in the first scenario (an embarrassing product) on the contrary to the second one (a non-embarrassing product) (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015).

The study has some serious limitations. Firstly, the research is based merely and exclusively on self-reports from the U.S. consumers. In fact, self-reports demonstrate an inherent limitation because actual and intended conducts might be highly discrepant. The authors relied on the literature on copying and masking strategies, which stimulated them to believe that the participants enrolled in three studies “probably” answered in an analogous or similar manner contrary to their actual conduct (Nichols, Raska & Flint 2015, p. 51). Therefore, the authors took into account the fact that real shopping modelling generated outcomes, which are generalizing to the real shopping conduct. The second limitation stands for the application of a simulated shopping charge. The authors hoped to demonstrate a method that could precisely and meticulously apprehend some inherent shopping trend, simultaneously monitoring outer agents, which might impact field studies (Feinberg, Willer & Keltner 2012). Despite the fact that the authors appeared to be capable of anticipating the sense of embarrassment, merely a field study would appear to be helpful in inducing the most likewise and real feeling of embarrassment in a similar shopping occasion. The facts vividly demonstrate that there are occasions when simulated shopping simulations and experiments might practically lead to participants’ biased proclivity to under-react and answer differently as in a natural setting required for a common reaction (Haiyan & Jasper 2014). The third imitation concerned the fact that the authors studied the feeling or embarrassment and masking strategies in regard to the products. It is highly important to analyse other environmental conditions, including age, gender, checkout cashier attractiveness, time of the day, particular societal presence of other people, which might impact consumer behaviour together with the shopping basket size and value (Kurt, Inman & Argo 2011). Moreover, there is a requirement to demonstrate more situations in which people encounter a feeling of embarrassment together with more actual types of embarrassment and the difference of shopping behaviour concerning these situations and embarrassment types (Brumbaugh & Rosa 2009). These situations typically incorporate the identification of the requirements (for instance, condoms), search for data (for example, the necessity to ask the clerk), purchasing situations, payment (for instance, when the credit card is declined), utilization of the products and services (waxing or motel room service), and disposal (for example, pregnancy test device) (Brumbaugh & Rosa 2009). Moreover, it is also important to analyse and research situations causing embarrassment in accordance with mechanisms. Thus, the first stands for the mere presence of others, while the second concerns occasions when the person is in the centre of attention (Picca & Joos 2009). These two examples stand for the expository embarrassment, in which the consumer feels uncomfortable due to the sensation of being watched (Feinberg, Willer & Keltner 2012). Moreover, there is another embarrassment feeling, namely the perception of being judged or assessed by people who observe (Bell 2009). For instance, the consumer feels embarrassed to buy condoms, thinking that others can evaluate it as promiscuous, or products that might reveal their inconvenient situation (for examples, drugs for treating diarrhoea) (Bell 2009).

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Despite the fact that the analysed research provides some managerial implications, they do not take into account a lot of highly significant societal environment implications. Moreover, the analysis does not demonstrate other ways of how the feeling of embarrassment might be beneficial and profitable for actual shopping, except for an increased basket size and value. The first one concerns the speed as the consumer desires to solve the problem as quickly as possible (Picca & Joos 2009). Thus, the possible actions of facilitating and mitigating the buying process concern the positioning of the products (easy place to find), reduce queues and cash register, highlight well-known brands and provide a comparatively small assortment (Brumbaugh & Rosa 2009). The second implication stands for the personal contact that has to be as limited as possible. Social interactions can enhance the sense of constraint. Therefore, the possible managerial implication is to avoid placing such products as pregnancy tests and condoms behind the counter (Bell 2009). Since not all products are placed on the shelves, the consumer feels embarrassed and exposed encountering the necessity to ask about the product (Picca & Joos 2009). It is necessary to have trained personnel that is capable of quickly demonstrating the necessary discretion (Brumbaugh & Rosa 2009). Moreover, as an embarrassed customer avoids buying products on a constant basis, it might be helpful to provide large packs. This will help in increasing the turnover. Finally, due to the fact that the purchase is quick, it presupposes less time for the customer to compare bargain prices and discounts (Haiyan & Jasper 2014). This demonstrates that price is not a decisive factor in the purchase of such products, especially when the consumer has little experience of making such a purchase (Brumbaugh & Rosa 2009).


The analysed study attempts to contribute to the knowledge and understanding of how Millennial customers manage with an embarrassing purchasing tasks and how embarrassment impacts store-level outputs incorporating the value and size of the shopping basket. This research appears to be highly important for retailers due to the fact that it helps in obtaining a more holistic picture of their customers. Nevertheless, this research does not demonstrate a complete analysis of the complicacy of consumers’ motivations and psyche. Authors appear to be highly strong in backing their studies and analysis, utilizing the explanation of embarrassment, Theory of Planned Behaviour, and masking, as a cognitive copying strategy. All of these implements help in demonstrating that the emotion of embarrassment might have a significant effect on retail output. Nevertheless, the analysed study has several limitations. The fact that the authors do not research social implications arising from the feeling of embarrassment seems to be one of the most significant limitations, as the appropriate analysis of this issue can demonstrate possible benefits retail managers might obtain when they appropriately address it.

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