Online recommendation of ethical product penalizes unethical product

Yoon, Y., Fu, Y., & Joo, J. (2021). Unintended CSR Violation Informed by Online Recommendation. Sustainability, 13(7), 4053.

Abstract: This paper investigates whether online recommendation of products that exhibit corporate social responsibility (CSR) penalizes the purchase intention of non-CSR products. When consumers browse online retail stores and consider buying a particular product, online recommendation is made (e.g., “Customers who viewed this item also viewed”). This recommendation is often made between products of which attributes have a trade-off relationship (e.g., CSR vs. price). (A trade-off is where one thing increases, and another must decrease. A trade-off relationship between CSR and price suggests a pair of competing products are available: a more expensive, CSR product and an economical, non-CSR product.) We borrowed from the psychological literature of evaluability to hypothesize that when a CSR product is recommended, consumers would decrease their purchase intention of the economical product. However, when an economical product is recommended, consumers would maintain their purchase intention of the CSR product. We further hypothesized that this asymmetric effect would disappear when reinforcement information regarding the CSR is provided. Two carefully designed experiments conducted in China supported these hypotheses. Our findings contribute to the growing literature on online retailers by elucidating the psychological impact of online recommendations, which may influence manufacturers’ sales in an unexpected manner. The findings also indicate that online recommendations could be a potential source of channel conflict. While this study newly verifies the unintended CSR violation effect of online recommendations, future studies are required to expand our understanding of the CSR violation effect by investigating the effect under the trade-off relationship with other attributes of the product.

Keywords: corporate social responsibility; economical; evaluability; online recommendation

Less is better for flower?

Less is often better. Chris Hsee demonstrated in his experiment that an overfilled ice cream serving with 7 oz of ice cream was valued more than an underfilled serving with 8 oz of ice cream. However, participants indicated greater willingness to pay for an underfilled ice cream than an overfilled one ($1.85 vs. $1.56). This is because, according to him, when participants determined the value of each option alone (i.e., separate evaluation), they focused on an easy-to-evaluate attribute (whether an ice cream is overfilled or underfilled) and failed to consider a hard-to-evaluate attribute (the amount of ice cream). However when indicating their willingness to pay together (i.e., joint evaluation), they considered the hard-to-evaluate attribute important. Note that a hard-to-evaluate attribute is an attribute that “people do not know whether a given value on that attribute is good or bad.”

I had a similar experience at the Nicolai Bergmann, a flower shop located in Seoul, Korea. A preserved, overfilled flower attracted my attention when I entered the store. However, I found another flower next to it and it was in a square box. Although the overfilled flower attracted me first, I chose the boxed one for several reasons. The primary reason was that when comparing these two flowers side-by-side, I considered their hard-to-evaluate attribute (the amount of flower) seriously. I expect many other visitors may reach the same conclusion.

Hsee, C. K. (1998). Less is better: When low‐value options are valued more highly than high‐value options. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making11(2), 107-121.

This research demonstrates a less-is-better effect in three contexts: (1) a person giving a $45 scarf as a gift was perceived to be more generous than one giving a $55 coat; (2) an overfilled ice cream serving with 7 oz of ice cream was valued more than an underfilled serving with 8 oz of ice cream; (3) a dinnerware set with 24 intact pieces was judged more favourably than one with 31 intact pieces (including the same 24) plus a few broken ones. This less-is-better effect occurred only when the options were evaluated separately, and reversed itself when the options were juxtaposed. These results are explained in terms of the evaluability hypothesis, which states that separate evaluations of objects are often infuenced by attributes which are easy to evaluate rather than by those which are important.

Mask pocket – customer insights during COVID-19

Wearing a face mask is mandatory in many restaurants. However, we take our mask off when the food comes. Experts often suggest diners to bring a clean, breathable container like a small mesh laundry bag or a brown bag to put the mask in. However, I have not formed this healthy habit yet. Therefore, I often place my mask on the table and then blame myself.

Recently, I found a clever solution for this issue at Joo Ok, a Korean contemporary dining restaurant in Seoul. This restaurant does not blame me but helps me follow rule.

Joo Ok is the creation of Chef Shin Chang Ho, winner of a Michelin star in the 2018 – 2021 editions of The Michelin Guide to Seoul. Its cuisine captures the essence of Korea’s four seasons, based on fermented jang sauces and vinegar, the pillars of Korean cuisine. Perilla oil pressed from seeds harvested in Chef Shin’s mother-in-law’s vegetable garden in Jinju, and some 30 varieties of homemade vinegar, brewed using proprietary recipes, are the stars of Joo Ok’s cuisine.

In this restaurant, diners are provided with mask pockets made by recycled paper. Certainly, they are not permanent and feasible solutions for every single restaurant. However, after having experienced a carefully designed mask bag, I start considering whether a mask bag is on the table when evaluating my restaurant experience.

During COVID-19, customer insights have been consistently discovered and converted into interesting new products, like a mask spray with essential oils.

“Lay rationalsim” leads consumers to choose subscription services

Subscription-based model attracts attention. It helps firms to stabilize profits, obtain insights, and forecast sales, enabling them sustain.

However, marketers have to pay attention to consumer psychology when they develop a subscription service. That is, pain of payment is detached from joy of enjoyment. When consumers consider subscribing a service or not, they emphasize the realized pain of payment rather than their expected joy of enjoyment. In this case, they tend to rely on “lay rationalism” and base their decisions on reason than on feeelings (Hsee et al. 2014, pg. 134). In order to use reason to guide decisions, consumers may calculate the cost effectiveness of a service rigorously (e.g., how much I will enjoy later based on how much I pay now).

Since payment-enjoyment time gap leads consumers to rely on lay rationalism, they may like a subscription service that is is easy to calculate its cost effectiveness. Take an example of the following 2 TB Dropbox service. The cost effectiveness of the two billing cycle options are easy to calculate and easy to compare because their pay period is identical (month). I subscribed this Dropbox service because I found it easy to calculate cost effectiveness.

In contrast, when cost effectiveness is difficult to calculate, a subscription service may not be chosen. Take an example of the following 3 TB Dropbox space. In this case, the cost effectiveness of the two billing cycle options are difficult to calculate and difficult to compare because their pay periods differ (year vs. month). I assume many others hesitate to choose one of the two options.


Hsee, C. K., Yang, Y., Zheng, X., & Wang, H. (2014). Lay Rationalism: Individual Differences in Using Reason Versus Feelings to Guide Decisions. Journal of Marketing Research, 52(1), 134–146.

People have a lay notion of rationality—that is, the notion of using
reason rather than feelings to guide decisions. Yet people differ in the degree to which they actually base their decisions on reason versus feelings. This individual difference variable is potentially general and important but is largely overlooked. The present research (1) introduces the construct of lay rationalism to capture this individual difference variable and distinguishes it from other individual difference variables; (2) develops a short, easy-to-implement scale to measure lay rationalism and demonstrates the validity and reliability of the scale; and (3) shows that lay rationalism, as measured by the scale, can predict a variety of consumer-relevant behaviors, including product preferences, savings decisions, and donation behaviors.

Why are we attracted by Starbucks toys?

Starbucks Coffee Korea recently launched a set of limited edition Playmobil toy figures. Customers get one of six tall-size beverages with an accompanying Playmobil figure for $12.

Today at a nearby Starbucks, I found several customers paid extra to have a barista figure. Another Starbucks was crowded even though customers have to leave store shortly due to social distancing regulations. It suggests this campaign increases offline store traffic.

Why do adults like Starbucks toys? Although brand power and scarcity play key roles, a more deeply rooted reason is that Playmobil figures are whimsically cute. “Cute products (e.g., an ice-cream scoop shaped like a miniature person or a dress with tropical colors and pink flamingos) can have whimsical nature, which is associated with capricious humor and playful disposition. Whimsical cuteness is … associated with fun and playfulness.” (Nenkov and Scott 2014, pg. 327).

Interestingly, whimsically cute products do not necessarily appeal when they are designed for kids. Contrary to our belief, whimsical cuteness attracts adults. This argument is supported by the experimental findings obtained from a marketing paper.

After viewing one of two cookies (neutral vs. whimsically cute), in an ostensibly unrelated study, participants were asked to imagine that they were attending a dinner with friends, and because they were watching their weight and were concerned about health-related issues, they were carefully evaluating their entree options. One option was rich and delicious but much more fattening, while the other option was more healthy but not quite as tasty as the richer option. They were then asked to indicate their preference for the rich versus healthy entree on a 7-point scale, ranging from 1 (will definitely have the rich entree) to 7 (will definitely have the healthy entree).

When two cookies were presented under “The Cookie Shop,” participants indicated significantly weaker preference for the healthy entree when they had earlier viewed the whimsically cute cookie than when they had viewed the neutral cookie. However, no such differences occurred when two cookies were presented under “The Kid’s Cookie Shop.”

Nenkov, G., & Scott, M. (2014). “So Cute I Could Eat It Up”: Priming Effects of Cute Products on Indulgent Consumption. Journal of Consumer Research,41(2), 326-341.

This article examines the extent to which consumers engage in more indulgent consumption when they are exposed to whimsically cute products and explores the process by which such products affect indulgence. Prior research on kindchenschema (baby schema) has found that exposure to cute babies or baby animals leads to more careful behavior (see the study by Sherman, Haidt, and Coan), suggesting restraint. The present research uncovers the opposite: consumers become more indulgent in their behavior after exposure to whimsically cute products. Drawing from research on cognitive priming, kindchenschema, anthropomorphization, indulgence, and regulatory focus, this research posits that exposure to whimsically cute products primes mental representations of fun, increasing consumers’ focus on approaching self-rewards and making consumers more likely to choose indulgent options. These effects do not emerge for kindchenschema cute stimuli, since they prime mental representations of vulnerability and caretaking. Four empirical studies provide evidence for the proposed effects and their underlying process.

How thick is 2cm-thick steak?

Thickness matters when cooking steak. A rule of thumb is to cook a 2cm-thick piece of steak for 2 minutes for rare, 4 minutes for medium, and 6 minutes for well-done. However, we struggle with guessing how thick a piece of steak is. Seven years ago, I met a clever solution for this problem at a grocery store where there was a manually carved wood plank. Since it shows how professional providers empathize with novice customers, I have shared it with many planers and designers. Recently, I met a similar but more carefully designed wood plank at a different grocery store in Seoul, Korea. According to the website, Gourmet 494 is

a space for food, entertainment and communication, built on the concept of “grocerant” (grocery + restaurant) for the first time in Korea where groceries (food ingredients) and restaurants (food and beverages) come together in one place

Wood plank tells that thickness is difficult for people to evaluate. A specific value (e.g., 2 cm) is hard to tell another value (e.g., 3 cm) because we are not sensitive about it. About this issue, a group of psychologists introduced a concept of General Evaluability Theory about 10 years ago.

Hsee, C. K., & Zhang, J. (2010). General evaluability theory. Perspectives on Psychological Science5(4), 343-355.

A central question in psychology and economics is the determination of whether individuals react differently to different values of a cared-about attribute (e.g., different income levels, different gas prices, and different ambient temperatures). Building on and significantly extending our earlier work on preference reversals between joint and separate evaluations, we propose a general evaluability theory (GET) that specifies when people are value sensitive and when people mispredict their own or others’ value sensitivity. The GET can explain and unify many seemingly unrelated findings, ranging from duration neglect to affective forecasting errors and can generate many new research directions on topics ranging from temporal discounting to subjective well-being.

In the section of Nature, the authors wrote the following. According to them, human beings do not seem to have an innate or stable scale to evaluate values on thickness.

Nature refers to whether human beings have an innate and stable physiological or psychological “scale” (reference system) to evaluate values on an attribute. The attribute is inherently evaluable if they do or inherently inevaluable if they do not. Ambient temperature is an example of an inherently evaluable attribute; even without learning or social comparison, we can tell what temperature makes us comfortable and happy and what does not. Other examples include amount of sleep, social isolation, or connectedness. The size of a diamond and the power of a car are examples of inherently inevaluable attributes; without learning or comparison, we would not know how to assess such variables. Of course, some people know how to evaluate diamond size and car power, but such knowledge is learned, not innate. Because people possess innate reference systems for inherently evaluable attributes but not for inherently inevaluable attributes, value sensitivity (without learning or comparison) is higher for inherently evaluable attributes (H1.3). More precisely, people in SE are more sensitive to differences on an inherently evaluable attribute than to differences on an inherently inevaluable attribute, holding their sensitivity to the two types of differences in JE constant; see our discussion of the Mode × Value × Nature interaction later in this article.

It should be noted that classifying a variable as inherently evaluable does not mean that it is immune to the influence of external reference information (such as social comparison); instead, it means that people can evaluate the variable even without such information. Also, inherently evaluable variables are not always associated with basic biological needs—they also include socio-psychological variables, such as loneliness, depression, and sense of achievement. (For details, see Hsee, Yang, Li, & Shen, 2009.)