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Darla Moore School of Business

Moore School marketing research shows customers are biased when dealing with local shops versus larger chains

July 26, 2019

Darla Moore School of Business marketing assistant professor Linyun Yang began her latest research after a rude encounter at a local coffee shop.

Yang, who came to the Moore School in early 2019, said she received rude service from a local mom-and-pop coffee shop and vowed to go to a Starbucks for her next outing.

“Then it occurred to me that I might not be as annoyed if I had received the same rude service at Starbucks,” she said. “Ever the researcher, I wondered, ‘Why would that be?’ After discussing my experience with my co-author Pankaj [Aggarwal], we thought it might be related to the size of the company, mom and pop versus Starbucks.”

After this discussion and eventual extensive data collection and research, Yang and Aggarwal, a University of Toronto Scarborough marketing professor, authored “No Small Matter: How Company Size Affects Consumer Expectations and Evaluations,” which was published in the April 2019 edition of the Journal of Consumer Research.

They hypothesized that customers have higher expectations for smaller, local businesses compared to impersonal large-scale chains.

“Intuitively, it seems like most consumers have strong expectations for warm and friendly customer service from small shops and companies,” Yang said.

Their research included analyzing three years of Yelp reviews for a coffee chain that was seen as a big corporation in one city and a smaller company in another city.

“When the coffee chain was perceived as a smaller player, it was really their warm qualities – sincerity, friendliness, warmth – that drove overall Yelp ratings,” Yang said.

Yang discussed this research on the April 24 Wharton Business Radio Marketing Matters podcast, which is broadcast on SiriusXM Internet Radio.

The Business Radio network out of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School “features world-renowned and distinguished professors and alumni as regular weekly hosts, plus executives, entrepreneurs, innovators and other experts as special hosts and guests.” The Marketing Matters podcast focuses on analysis and research into advertising, marketing, customer behavior and new product launches, according to their website.

Yang said she enjoyed talking about her research on the more informal radio show.

“Americus [Reed], the host and also a Wharton marketing professor, was so amicable and easy to talk to, it felt like we were just two friends chatting on the phone talking about consumer behavior research,” she said.

Beyond consumers’ expectations for small versus large companies, Yang and Aggarwal are also beginning research that examines how gender stereotypes are applied to brands when they are humanized such as brands like Mr. Clean and Mrs. Butterworth.

“We find that when consumers are asked to think of a brand as human, they tend to assume the brand is male, which is consistent with male being the default gender in the overall perceptions of humans,” she said.

Shifting focus to individual decisions instead of brand decisions, Yang is working on another project with Moore School Ph.D. student Ruoou Li that explores how consumers justify spending money on self-care activities like yoga classes, massages, facials and similar activities.

“We’re interested in understanding why consumers might sometimes feel embarrassed by spending money on self-care activities and how they reconcile these feelings,” Yang said.

Yang’s zeal for consumer behavior research stems from her fascination with human behavior overall and understanding why they do the things they do.

“The consumption context is especially interesting because people spend so much time navigating through it, so the brands and products consumers choose to buy and display are closely integrated with their day-to-day lives,” she said. 

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