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No AccessConsumer Emotions in the Marketplace

Small Probabilistic Discounts Stimulate Spending: Pain of Paying in Price Promotions

Chang-Yuan Lee ([email protected]) is a doctoral student in the Department of Marketing at the Questrom School of Business, Boston University, 595 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA 02215. Carey K. Morewedge ([email protected]) is a professor of marketing and Everett W. Lord Distinguished Faculty Scholar in the Department of Marketing, Questrom School of Business, Boston University, Rafik B. Hariri Building, 595 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA 02215. Guy Hochman ([email protected]) is a senior lecturer in the Baruch Ivcher School of Psychology and Arlson School of Business at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, 4610101, Israel. Dan Ariely ([email protected]) is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, and a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight, 334 Blackwell Street, no. 320, Durham, NC 27701. Please address correspondence concerning this article to Chang-Yuan Lee ([email protected]).

We find that small probabilistic price promotions effectively stimulate demand, even more so than comparable fixed price promotions (e.g., “1% chance it’s free” vs. “1% off,” respectively), because they more effectively reduce the pain of paying. In three field experiments at a grocer, we exogenously and endogenously manipulated the salience of pain of paying via elicitation timing (e.g., at entrance or checkout) and payment method (i.e., cash/debit cards or credit cards). This modulated the attractiveness of probabilistic discounts and their ability to stimulate spending. Shoppers paying with cash or debit cards, for example, spent 54% more if they received a 1% probabilistic discount than a 1% fixed discount (experiment 2). A fourth experiment showed that consumers’ sensitivity to pain of paying modulates the greater comparative efficacy of small probabilistic than fixed discounts. More broadly, the results elucidate a novel affective route through which price promotions stimulate demand––pain of paying.