StudyCorgi Business & Economics

The Consumer Embarrassment Concept


This paper is a critical analysis of the 2015 journal article “Effects of consumer embarrassment on shopping basket size and value: A study of the millennial consumer” by Bridget Nichols, David Raska, and Daniel Flint. The paper is divided into four sections, viz. the introduction, summary, critique, and conclusion. In the introduction, the paper highlights the key issues surrounding consumer embarrassment. In the summary section, the paper gives a detailed sum-up of the article. The critique section is critical analysis while the conclusion gives a recap of the issues explored in the article.

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The consumers’ purchasing power and preferences determine the size, variety, and value of their shopping basket. However, due to several varying factors, the shopping experience could result in embarrassment as customers seek to bolster their confidence by altering the composition of their shopping basket (Çelik 2011). The demographic variations have considerable implications for the shopping experiences as the old century versus advanced technology dichotomy comes into play. As such, shoppers develop coping mechanisms to handle the embarrassment as they engage in “masking” to conceal the size and value of their shopping basket (Nichols, Raska, & Flint 2012).

The article “Effects of consumer embarrassment on shopping basket size and value: A study of the millennial consumer” provides an insightful explanation regarding the issue of “masking” as a coping mechanism for the shoppers experiencing embarrassment. In this light, the study undertaken centered on the emotions evoked by embarrassing shopping experiences with respect to one’s shopping basket composition (Grace 2007). In this regard, this paper focuses on a critical review of the online journal article “Effects of consumer embarrassment on shopping basket size and value: A study of the millennial consumer” in a bid to understand the emotions associated with shopping basket composition.

Article Summary

Nichols, Raska, and Flint (2015) conducted three studies with the aim of understanding the various perceptions associated with embarrassment among retail shoppers concerning the size of their shopping basket. In particular, the three studies intended to examine the behavior of millennial customers due to embarrassment as they avoid social scrutiny by masking their presence in the retail stores while shopping for sensitive products.

Further, the tendency of shoppers to embrace masking due to their vulnerability to embarrassment owing to the composition of their shopping basket also attracts the attention of Nichols, Raska, and Flint (2015). In conducting the three studies, integration of theoretical frameworks aimed at enhancing the understanding pertaining to the shopping experiences especially concerning the millennials and non-millennials. The theories include behavior modification, social anxiety, and the theory of planned behavior (TPB).

The shopper’s social identity and acceptance form the major contributing factors that shape up their emotions while in the retail stores. As such, the embarrassment that consumers experienced is tied to their perceptions about what others might think of them regarding the composition of their shopping basket. As a result, shoppers, engage in the modification of their behavior with the aim of altering the impression that others develop so as to enhance their chances of social acceptance.

Therefore, shoppers, in a bid to foster their social acceptance and maintain their identity, embrace masking as a coping tactic to manage the distress associated with the composition of the items they buy especially on the complementary and counterbalance aspects of the items purchased. For example, an adolescent could mask their shopping experience when on a trip to buy condoms by adding gum or chocolate in the shopping basket so as make the former less focal to other shoppers.

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In this concern, Nichols, Raska, and Flint (2015) hypothesized that the size of the shopping basket for persons shopping for embarrassing products would be bigger thus resulting in a higher value of the items purchased. Further, integration of the TRB reveals that customers buying embarrassing products engage in calculated masking moves by estimating the cost of their shopping trip since they would purchase extra items to conceal the embarrassment-inducing items. In this respect, distressed individuals with bigger basket sizes as a masking strategy would hold baskets of higher value as compared to those with smaller shopping baskets depicting the lower value of their items.

From the hypotheses developed by Nichols, Raska, and Flint (2015), one understands that the authors seek to investigate the coping behavior of embarrassed shoppers as they use the masking strategy to alter the size and value of their shopping basket.

The first study undertaken sought to examine the shopping behavior of individuals in drug stores and how they masked their embarrassing experiences emanating from the drugs they purchased. Particularly, the study focused on a sample population made up of the millennial cohort comprising of 65 students that related their masking experiences associated with the acquisition of drugs. The results depicted that 67% of the participants applied the masking strategy to curb embarrassing experiences. The products related to masking behavior included weight loss products (4%), foot care (4%), digestive health (16%), feminine care (40%), and sexual health products (40%) (Nichols, Raska, & Flint 2015).

The masking strategies encompassed the purchase of magazines, groceries, clothing, personal care products, and using self-checkout besides having company while shopping. Mainly, the masking practice focused more on the general public than people they know or the cashiers to escape negative perceptions regarding the composition of their shopping basket.

The second study focused on the impacts of the embarrassment-evoked masking behavior on the size and value of the items purchased and the individual variations that trigger the shopping experiences and outcomes. Using a sample population of 300 university students, the study exposed the participants to different drugs with the aim of gauging their level of embarrassment anticipation. Gender variations proved a point in determining the embarrassment anticipation among the participants. For instance, male respondents found female sexual products embarrassing. The investigation focused on products other than condoms, including vaginal cream, hemorrhoid cream, and bandages.

The study findings unearthed that a considerable basket size difference existed between shoppers that experienced embarrassment and those in non-embarrassing situations as the former purchased 1.54 more items than the latter on average. Further, the inquiry unveiled that due to the purchase of an embarrassing product, shoppers masked the situation by increasing the size of their shopping basket thus leading to an additional $5 on average as compared to those not embarrassed. Moreover, in agreement with the TPB, the shoppers masking their embarrassment condition knew how much it would cost them to purchase the additional items needed to conceal the ones causing the discomfort.

In the third study, the aspects of counterbalancing and complementing embarrassing products got tested to understand the behavior of retail shoppers. As such, the decisions made to balance the basket with other items depended on the estimated cost of the shopping trip and the number of customers in the retail store. The findings revealed that shoppers that purchased embarrassing items in a complementary manner like in the case of toilet paper and hemorrhoid cream ended up with a bigger basket size.

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Conversely, non-complementary items like the hemorrhoid cream and markers did not witness an increased size of the shopping basket since they act as counterbalancing products to alter the perceptions of others. Moreover, due to social identity issues, the value of embarrassing products purchased by the millennials was higher due to the increased size of the basket arising from the purchase of complementary products compared to the non-millennials. As such, the results unmasked the demographic dynamics associated with masking behaviors among shoppers.

Article Critique

Nichols, Raska, and Flint (2015) approach the issue of shopping embarrassment influencing the composition of a shopping basket from multiple perspectives. Focusing on the impact of purchasing embarrassing products on the size of the shopping basket enhances an understanding of the behavior of different shoppers. Notably, the authors point out that social acceptance and social identity influence one to determine the composition of their shopping basket once they make a trip to acquire items considered embarrassing. In this regard, the integration of the theory of social anxiety validates the arguments of Nichols, Raska, and Flint (2015) as depicted by the masking behavior of the shoppers purchasing embarrassing products.

The social anxiety theory holds that individuals could engage in the overestimation of their negative elements of social interactions thus influencing them to change their behavior to curtail the manifestation of the negative aspects of their shopping undertakings (Kazdin 2012).

Further, the theory underpins that individuals could also underestimate the positive elements of their social interactions and thus, they perceive people differently. In this context, the sample population used in the first study revealed that 67% of the shoppers expressed their anxiety after shopping for products associated with weight loss, sexual health, digestive health, and foot care. Consequently, the shopping experience affected the interaction of the shoppers buying the embarrassing products with that of the general public, people they know, or the cashiers. As such, they overestimated the negativity associated with the said products thereby triggering them to employ a coping mechanism to handle the anxiety.

Nichols, Raska, and Flint (2012) confirm that opting for complementing and counterbalancing products such as clothing, groceries, and personal care products reveal the masking approached embraced to mitigate the anxiety caused by the social interactions in the retail store setting.

Additionally, the social anxiety theory supports the argument by Nichols, Raska, and Flint (2015) that masking seeks to protect the social identity of the shoppers purchasing embarrassing products. In this light, the millennial shoppers, aged 27 years and younger embrace the masking approach so as to enhance their social acceptance. As a result, the said demographic category of buyers would overestimate their negative aspects of social interactions while shopping in the drug stores or pharmacy outlets.

Therefore, out of anxiety, shoppers worry about the perceptions of the older generation thereby increasing the size of the shopping basket to neutralize the embarrassing situation with complementing or counterbalancing items (Kazdin 2012).

However, Luo (2005) claims that besides the aspects of social identity and social acceptance, the self-esteem of the shoppers could also alter the composition of the shopping basket whether purchasing embarrassing products or not. In this context, the anxiety arising from social interactions while shopping could demonstrate the level of self-esteem among the shoppers buying embarrassing products. Therefore, shoppers with high self-esteem would not necessarily seek social acceptance or struggle to identify with a certain cohort by engaging in masking behavior. In this concern, Nichols, Raska, and Flint (2015) could have integrated the aspect of self-f esteem in their studies to explain the behavior of consumers while shopping for embarrassing products since some shoppers do not mind about the perception of others.

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Axiomatically, Nichols, Raska, and Flint (2015) applied the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) to explain the behavior of shoppers regarding embarrassing products reasonably. As such, Liao, Chen, and Yen, (2007) suggest that TPB could apply in describing the behavior of shoppers by analyzing the manner in which they portray self-control capabilities when purchasing various products.

In this regard, the millennials could evaluate their shopping intentions and outcomes before planning to engage in the purchase of particular products. Lau-Gesk and Drolet (2008) agree that the millennial shoppers plan the way they shop for embarrassing products including condoms, vaginal cream, and hemorrhoid cream by determining the complementary and counterbalance products to include in the shopping balance. Further, as uncovered by Nichols, Raska, and Flint (2015), the shoppers buying embarrassing products usually plan the budget inclusive of the extra products required for masking.

Therefore, the TPB holds that individuals could use resources or opportunities with the intent of behaving in ways that result in the desired outcomes. However, Blair and Roese (2013) argue that purchasing additional products to cover the embarrassment that some shoppers perceive could exacerbate the situation paradoxically. Therefore, the need to maintain one’s public identity could turn futile once one decides to mask the embarrassing products with complementary or counterbalance items that further increase the size and value of the basket. In some instances, the masking strategies could negatively affect the financial position of the shoppers as the additional costs are usually far much higher than the expense of the embarrassing product itself (Çelik 2011).

Additionally, the studies conducted by Blair and Roese (2013) showed inconsistencies with the arguments of Nichols, Raska, and Flint (2015) since the latter argue that the purchase of additional and unrelated products to counter the embarrassing products reduces the distress. For example, when an individual purchases a foot care product and counter-balances it with underwear, the size and value would increase, but the embarrassment would reduce. Therefore, the TPB depicts that some intended actions could result in desired or undesired outcomes as manifested in the case of induced financial burden or reduced embarrassment (Liao, Chen, & Yen 2007).

Further, studies show that shopper’s counterbalance perceptions facilitate a reduction in the anticipation of shame (Michon, Chebat, & Turley 2005). In this concern, shoppers purchasing embarrassing items could mask the situation by influencing the perceptions of others through counterbalance approaches (Hsu et al. 2006). In most cases, the millennial group depicts the attributes of the behavior modification theory whereby they alter the perceptions of others while shopping for products regarded as embarrassing through complementing or counterbalancing such products in a way that changes the composition of the shopping basket.

Therefore, besides masking the embarrassing shopping condition through counterbalancing perceptions as revealed by Nichols, Raska, and Flint (2015), shoppers also do so to modify the behavior of others on how they perceive them. For instance, purchasing a sexual health product and counterbalancing it with a scientific magazine influences the perception of others regarding the “public identity”.

Moreover, Nichols, Raska, and Flint (2015) disregarded the role of familiarity and perceived or actual social presence in determining the manner in which consumers react to embarrassing products. Consumers could feel embarrassed when buying a sensitive product for the first time compared to the regular users of a similar product (Grace 2009; Solomon, Russell-Bennett, & Previte 2012). For instance, an individual purchasing an anti-foot odor product after recently developing the complication would have greater chances of embarrassment susceptibility and thus, consider purchasing additional items to counterbalance the situation compared to regular consumers of a similar product.

Furthermore, besides considering the actual social presence of others while shopping, consumers could envision imagined consumers thereby developing strategies to counter the imminent embarrassing experience while shopping for sensitive products. For this reason, such shoppers predetermine the budget of the shopping trip as noted by Nichols, Raska, and Flint (2015) to cater for the increased size and value of the shopping cart.


Despite the amusement triggered by embarrassing shopping, such events pose no laughing matter to the shoppers experiencing such situations. For this reason, millennial shoppers continue to alter the composition of the shopping basket so as to reduce the discomfort caused by embarrassing products. In this concern, the integration of theories like behavior modification, social anxiety, and the theory of planned behavior facilitates the comprehension of such behaviors. Notably, the masking coping strategy entails the purchase of additional products in the form of compliments to lessen the embarrassing experience.

The embarrassing shopping occurrences mainly affect the millennial generation since face pressure to underline their social identity and attain social acceptance. However, not all consumers in the millennial category engage in masking strategies to counter the embarrassing experiences as some let their high self-esteem, social presence, or familiarity with the product control their emotions while shopping.

Reference List

Blair, S & Roese, N 2013, ‘Balancing the basket: the role of shopping basket composition in embarrassment’, Journal of Consumer Research, vol.40, no.4, pp.676-691.

Çelik, H 2011, ‘Influence of social norms, perceived playfulness and online shopping anxiety on customers’ adoption of online retail shopping: An empirical study in the Turkish context’, International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, vol.39, no.6, pp.390-413.

Grace, D 2007, ‘How embarrassing! An exploratory study of critical incidents including affective reactions’, Journal of Service Research, vol.9, no.3, pp.271-284.

Grace, D 2009, ‘An examination of consumer embarrassment and repatronage intentions in the context of emotional service encounters’, Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, vol.16, no.1, pp.1-9.

Hsu, M, Yen, C, Chiu, C & Chang, C 2006, ‘A longitudinal investigation of continued online shopping behavior: An extension of the theory of planned behavior’, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, vol.64, no.9, pp.889-904.

Kazdin, A 2012, Behavior modification in applied settings, Waveland Press, Illinois.

Lau-Gesk, L & Drolet, A 2008, ‘The publicly self-consciousness consumer: Prepared to be embarrassed’, Journal of Consumer Psychology, vol.18, no.2, pp.127-136.

Liao, C, Chen, J & Yen, D 2007, ‘Theory of planning behavior (TPB) and customer satisfaction in the continued use of e-service: An integrated model’, Computers in Human Behavior, vol.23, no.6, pp.2804-2822.

Luo, X 2005, ‘How does shopping with others influence impulsive purchasing’, Journal of Consumer Psychology, vol.15, no.4, pp.288-294.

Michon, R, Chebat, J & Turley, L 2005, ‘Mall atmospherics: the interaction effects of the mall environment on shopping behavior’, Journal of Business Research, vol.58, no.5, pp.576-583.

Nichols, B, Raska, D & Flint, D 2012, ‘Product masking: effects of consumer embarrassment on shopping basket size and value; Marketing in the socially-networked world: challenges of emerging, stagnant, and resurgent markets’, Journal of Consumer Behavior, vol. 14, no.1, pp.311-312.

Nichols, B, Raska, D & Flint, D 2015, ‘Effects of consumer embarrassment on shopping basket size and value: A study of the millennial consumer’, Journal of Consumer Behavior, vol.14, no.1, pp.41-56.

Solomon, M, Russell-Bennett, R & Previte, J 2012, Consumer behavior, Pearson Higher Education, Sydney.

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