An Analysis of the Impact of Social Factors on Purchase Behavior
Consumers purchase conspicuous goods to satisfy not just material needs but also social needs such as prestige. In an attempt to meet these social needs, marketing managers of conspicuous goods like cars, perfumes, and watches employ several strategies to highlight the exclusivity of their products. These strategies include using exclusive distribution, charging high prices, and limiting production. Further, marketing textbooks suggest that the demand curve for prestige goods could be upward sloping and therefore firms should not set prices which are ``too low''. In this paper we examine whether the desire for exclusivity can lead to an upward-sloping demand curve. We also investigate how social factors such as the desire for exclusivity and conformity affect prices and firms' profits. To analyze these issues, we develop a model of conspicuous consumption using the rational expectations framework. We consider two different market structures: monopoly and duopoly. Our results shows that the desire for exclusivity can lead to an upward-sloping demand curve when there is a segment of consumers who are (weakly) conformists. The impact of exclusivity and conformity on prices and profits varies with the market structure. Interestingly, an increase in perceived functional differentiation of products consumed by snobs could decrease firms' profits and prices. In the laboratory, we observe an upward sloping demand curve for snobs, in both the monopoly and duopoly setting. We also track consumer's expectations, and find on average that subjects' beliefs are consistent with the observed outcome and the rational expectations equilibrium solution.
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