When And How Multitasking Impacts Consumer Shopping Decisions
Bachelor in Business Administration / 30 September 2016
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Professor of Marketing
Selin is Professor of Marketing at Frankfurt School since September 2014. Before joining the Frankfurt School, she has been an Associate Professor of Marketing at HEC Paris and Assistant Professor at Bilkent University. Selin Atalay holds a Ph.D. in Marketing from Penn State University. Her research interests focus primarily on consumer decision-making processes. She is mostly interested in the effects of affect on consumer decision making as well as visual attention, retail shelf location, self-gifting behavior, social exclusion.

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Executive Summary

From smart phones to smart watches consumers are equipped with more devices, and tasks than ever before that compete for their time and attention. Interestingly, retailers are also ever more accessible to consumers. From traditional department stores and supermarkets that are open 24/7 to creatively designed pop-up stores, and online/mobile shopping capabilities (i.e. shopping apps for smart phones), consumers today can shop anytime, anywhere. Additionally, it is not uncommon at all, that consumers speak on the phone as they shop, text as they eat, check social media as they read an article. Consumers, retailers and marketers alike need to be aware of how the multi-screen/multi-device consumer is being affected by their desire to do it all, all at the same time.

Multitasking is a common phenomenon with mostly negative effects on performance. In the current work, we find that the effect of multitasking on consumers’ shopping task performance is moderated by whether the consumer is in a how (implementation) or why (deliberation) mindset. To the benefit of consumers, results suggest that shoppers in how-mindsets can multitask without any negative impact on shopping task performance. However, consumers in a why (deliberation) mindset are negatively affected by multitasking. The negative impact of multitasking on shopping task performance in why mindsets is due to higher levels of task-induced stress. We find that reducing the stress level eliminates the negative impact of multitasking on consumers in why-mindsets.

Given how prevalent multitasking is in retail settings, managers can help consumers make better decisions by either employing interventions to channel consumers to an implementation mindset or by using strategies to alleviate task-induced stress. If stores were designed in ways such that consumers can manage their stress while shopping they may be protected from the negative impact of multitasking.

To channel consumers to an implementation mindset, retailers can entice consumers to think about “how one should use a product” versus “why one should buy a product” (White, Macdonnell, & Dahl 2011). Retail environments also impact mindset. For instance, the ceiling height in a retail environment (Zhu & Meyers-Levy 2007) can also instantiate particular mindsets. Low ceilings, narrower aisles are some retail environment related characteristics that may lead to implementation mindsets.

Store environments can also be designed in ways that reduce stress to improve task performance while multitasking in why-mindsets. Our work, showed that stress reduction improves both multitasking performance and speed in decision-making. For example, incorporation of greenery in retail areas has been shown to reduce stress (Brengman, Willems, & Joye, 2012). Furthermore, we also showed that eliminating stress has benefits in terms of the time it takes one to accomplish one’s shopping goals. In this respect, retail environments that provide ways to eliminate stress can increase consumers’ speed and efficiency, which is what individuals try to achieve by multitasking. Ultimately, the ability to efficiently accomplish one’s goal in a specific retail environment increases customer satisfaction with the retail outlet and likelihood to revisit, making this a critical concern for managers.


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