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Mental Accounting and Small Windfalls: Evidence from an Online Grocer

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  • Katherine L. Milkman

    ()
    (Harvard Business School)

  • John L. Beshears

    ()
    (Harvard Business School)

Abstract

We study the effect of small windfalls on consumer spending decisions by comparing the purchases online grocery customers make when redeeming $10-off coupons with the purchases they make without coupons. Controlling for customer fixed effects and other variables, we find that grocery spending increases by $1.59 when a $10-off coupon is redeemed. The extra spending associated with coupon redemption is focused on groceries that a customer does not typically buy. These results are consistent with the theory of mental accounting but are not consistent with the standard permanent income or lifecycle theory of consumption. While the hypotheses we test are motivated by mental accounting, we also discuss some alternative psychological explanations for our findings.

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File URL: http://www.hbs.edu/research/pdf/08-024.pdf
File Function: Revised version, 2008
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Harvard Business School in its series Harvard Business School Working Papers with number 08-024.

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Length: 33 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2007
Date of revision: Sep 2008
Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:08-024

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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Katherine Milkman & Todd Rogers & Max Bazerman, 2010. "I’ll have the ice cream soon and the vegetables later: A study of online grocery purchases and order lead time," Marketing Letters, Springer, vol. 21(1), pages 17-35, March.
  2. Abeler, Johannes & Marklein, Felix, 2008. "Fungibility, Labels, and Consumption," IZA Discussion Papers 3500, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Thomas F. Crossley & Hamish Low & Sarah Smith, 2013. "Do Consumers Gamble to Convexify?," Koç University-TUSIAD Economic Research Forum Working Papers 1314, Koc University-TUSIAD Economic Research Forum.
  4. Michał Krawczyk, 2014. "Probability weighting in different domains: the role of stakes, fungibility, and affect," Working Papers 2014-15, Faculty of Economic Sciences, University of Warsaw.
  5. Christiaensen , Luc & Pan, Lei, 2012. "On the fungibility of spending and earnings -- evidence from rural China and Tanzania," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6298, The World Bank.
  6. Kaustia, Markku & Rantapuska, Elias, 2012. "Rational and behavioral motives to trade: Evidence from reinvestment of dividends and tender offer proceeds," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 36(8), pages 2366-2378.
  7. Berning, Joshua P., 2014. "The Effect of Breakfast Cereal Coupons on the Nutritional Quality of Household Purchases," International Food and Agribusiness Management Review, International Food and Agribusiness Management Association (IAMA), vol. 17(A).
  8. Luc Christiaensen & Lei Pan, 2010. "Transfers and Development: Easy Come, Easy Go?," Working Paper Series wp2010-125, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
  9. Justine Hastings & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2012. "Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice: Evidence from Commodity Price Shocks," NBER Working Papers 18248, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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