CORDIS - EU research results

The CONsumer COmpetence Research Training

Final Report Summary - CONCORT (The CONsumer COmpetence Research Training)

CONCORT: Understanding and building consumer competence

In 2012, CONCORT set out to train a new generation of consumer researchers. CONCORT abandoned the classic business-oriented consumer research agenda focused on business profit and the classic economic view on human decision making underlying much contemporary policy, without, however, giving up on the scientific quality of the classic Marketing discipline and the methodological rigor from the Behavioural Sciences. Collaborating with its North-American cousin the transformative consumer research movement, CONCORT immersed its young researchers in consumer welfare research themes under the guidance of experienced researchers in Business schools (LBS, INSEAD, ESMT), classic universities (KULeuven, Utrecht University) and two corporate partners with a focus on advanced behavioural measurement (Philips, Tobii, and VicarVision). Corresponding to the open-mindedness of the network, the experienced researchers had a variety of backgrounds (consumer science, health psychology, and behavioural economics). The biannual conventions brought intensive exposure to a series of top behavioral scientists from all the disciplines involved, managers, entrepreneurs, social innovators, and policy makers.
The departure from the classic business-oriented marketing research themes was achieved through organizing the research under the umbrella of the guiding concept of consumer competence. Consumer competence refers to a broad set of abilities, intuitions, knowledge and skills that consumers need in order to make decisions that help them navigate successfully in the often complex and challenging economic environment. Departure from the classic economic underpinnings of human behaviour was achieved by relying on theoretical insights and rigorous methodology from behavioural economics and the behavioural sciences. This overall research philosophy led to two major research themes. One theme focused on questioning the standard assumptions in policy making and building a new behavioral economics and behavioral science framework to underpin policy. A second, complementary research theme explored and demonstrated unconventional (from a classic economic point of view) tools of boosting consumer competence.
Under the umbrella of questioning standard assumptions, two projects focused on the adagio that giving more information leads to better informed decisions. CONCORT researchers found that providing information may spoil the value of pleasure consumption (e.g. vacations) or overwhelm consumers (as shown by advanced eye-tracking equipment), making them turn away from the information and the product eventually. Another project showed that deliberation, an act typically hailed as supportive of rational decision making, may induce overspending because it helps consumers think of additional positive reasons to purchase what they desire rather than make them realize they would better not buy. In a similar vein, a fourth project showed that poor consumers may become so attached to their luxury products (for which they typically spent too much) that they are willing to pay even more for luxury and luxury add-ons. This finding implies that a luxury tax, although a seemingly rational policy, may not be the best way to reduce overspending in financially constraint consumers. Another project showed that altruistic gift giving increased rather than decreased subsequent indulgence. However, not all our projects showed that the classic economic assumptions do not work. Interestingly, one project found that high emotionality hindered the emergence of optimal decision making. One final project in this research strand attempted to integrate some of the concepts from behavioral economics (i.c. regret) into formal mathematical models and showed, experimentally, that these novel models work.
Under the umbrella of exploring unconventional ways to change consumer behavior for the better, several projects used treatments that are conventionally believed to harm rational decision making, such a mental fatigue and power. Indeed, mental fatigue was shown to make consumer more receptive to (positive) social norm information and power was shown to make people more honest in sharing information about products. Two other projects used unconventional concepts to improve consumer competence. Belief in free will was shown to support consumer decision making, and mindfulness was shown to enhance physical exercising. Three further projects build on the idea that consumer competence may also reside in the body rather than purely (and what is classically assumed), in the mind (‘embodied consumer competence’). Using advanced face reader equipment, one project showed that consumers being subtly discouraged from smiling were less easily persuaded by funny advertisements. Another project showed that simple physical rearrangement (e.g. a greater distance between the consumer and tempting food) enhanced resistance against this type of food. A final project based on the idea of embodied consumer competence demonstrated that simple logo cues in the environment (like vertical organization) can convey quality information.
The impact of CONCORT is only beginning. The 14 researchers have presented their work at international conferences, and talked to practitioners and to people outside academia. They have obtained or are in the process of obtaining phds from respected universities, and they are publishing their work in international academic outlets but also towards a broader audience (see the blog at The 14 researcher trained in the CONCORT network have received a unique blend in influences and have been deeply ingrained with the research philosophy behind consumer competence. They will spread this idea throughout their career, whether in academia, policy, or business environments.

CONCORT, 290255, 01/12/2011-30/11/2015
coordinator: Siegfried Dewitte, Behavioral Engineering Research Group, KU Leuven (