Public Scholar Tanya Singh wants to better understand the impacts of consumer indecision
If you've ever searched long and hard for an expensive item only to back out from buying it at the last minute, then Public Scholar Tanya Singh's research should speak to you.
The marketing PhD candidate at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business is looking at how that choice will affect your future behaviour as a consumer.
"Major purchase decisions are hard and it's understandable to put off some choices," she says. "But how does this impact us? Does it affect subsequent choices? These are the questions that my research tries to address."
Singh, who also has a PhD in evolutionary biology and a bachelor's in biotechnology, brings an interdisciplinary approach to her study of business and consumer behaviour.
'Choice deferral can beget greater deferral'
Your area of specialty is quite niche. What inspired you to look at the consequences of putting off purchase decisions?
Tanya Singh: I am quite indecisive and often find myself putting off purchases. After talking to some friends and colleagues, I realized that is a fairly common problem that consumers face and is especially true of more expensive purchases (such as flight tickets, hotel bookings, etc.).
When I looked into the marketing literature, most of the research focused on why consumers put off decisions. There isn’t much research on how putting off decisions impacts consumers, even though this is a common phenomenon. So that’s how I arrived at this question.
You have a PhD in evolutionary biology, a bachelor's in biotechnology and now you're doing a PhD in marketing. Is there any link to the three, or are you just interested in a wide variety of subjects?
TS: I often get asked this question! Growing up, I was obsessed with biology; it was my favourite subject at school. So, I decided to pursue a bachelor’s in biotechnology and then a PhD. However, during my PhD in biology, I realized that my topic was very theoretical, and I really wanted to do research that could be applied to the real world.
My husband was pursuing a PhD at the business school, and it inspired me to study consumer behaviour. Fortunately, the stars aligned, and here I am!
And so does putting off purchase decisions affect subsequent choices? Is there a simple answer to this question? How do you compile data to evaluate this?
TS: The short answer is yes. Like all other human behaviours, choice deferral (i.e. putting off choices) is complicated. We do it for a variety of reasons like not having enough money, not having enough time or not having enough information. My research has found that deferring a single decision may predispose consumers to deferring again.
I call this a “deferral momentum” effect — we have some preliminary results showing that deferring choices may make consumers doubt their decision-making abilities, thereby making it harder to make subsequent choices, and hence prompting more deferral. So, it becomes a vicious cycle.
Do you hope to develop any practical applications from your research? Will there be a way to use this data to improve business models for some industries?
TS: That’s a great question! I really hope that this research can help improve consumer well-being. My research shows that deferral can beget greater deferral and that deferral can lower consumer’s confidence to make decisions.
These are both important insights and can help consumers avoid negative outcomes in the marketplace. For a lot of online vendors, who suggest products to customers based on previous purchases, these insights may help boost their sales.
What's next for you in the coming months and years?
TS: For now, I am focussing on completing my dissertation and disseminating my research. I'm also thankful for the platform that the Public Scholar Program has afforded me. Given the extent of disinformation that is present these days, it's great to have a platform where researchers can directly communicate with the general public. I'm not sure what the future holds for me, but I'm hoping to continue to do research in the field of consumer behaviour!
Find out more about Concordia’s Public Scholar Program.
Register for the event Choice Deferral: What happens when we put off decisions? on October 4.