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JOURNAL OFCONSUMER PSYCHOLOGY, 13(4), 44W53

Copyright O 2003, Lawrence Erlbaurn Associates, Inc.


Outraged Consumers: Getting Even at the Expense
of Getting a Good Deal
Nada Nasr Bechwati
Department of Marketing
Bentley College
Maureen Morrin
School of Business
Rutgers University, Camden
This article introduces the concept of desire for consumer vengeance. Desire for consumer ven-
geance (DCV) is conceptualized as the desire of a decision maker to "get even" with an entity,
such as a firm, in response to a perceived wrongdoing. Drawing on research in psychology and
organization behavior, a theoretical framework is proposed for understanding variables that in-
fluence the extent to which the DCV is felt and the conditions under which one acts on such
feelings. The results of 2 experiments show that, given sufficient desire for vengeance, some
consumers will choose a suboptimal decision outcome to get even with a firm. We also find that
it is the interpersonal factors of the redress experience, rather than its tangible outcomes, that
drive consumers to exact revenge on firms after a dissatisfying experience.
It seems like outraged consumers are everywhere. They be-
come furious when their flights are cancelled, their telephone
bills contain unexpected charges, or the line they must wait in
for service is excessively long (Appelman, 2001; Brady,
2000). What factors determine the level of outrage consum-
ers feel in such situations and what types of marketplace be-
haviors do such consumers tend to exhibit? A key focus of
this research concerns the nature of outraged consumers'
subsequent brand choice (i.e., how the subsequent or replace-
ment brand is chosen by extremely dissatisfied consumers).
For example, if consumers become outraged with AT&T's
long distance services, how do they next decide which long
distance firm to deal with?
Prior researchers have implicitly assumed that the brand
to which consumers switch after a negative product or ser-
vice experience is chosen on the basis of wanting to maxi-
mize their utility function (e.g., obtain maximum product sat-
isfaction at the lowest possible price). We challenge this
assumption to propose, instead, that at extreme levels of dis-
satisfaction, some consumers will react to the negative expe-
rience in ways that may lead them to choose a suboptimal al-
Requests for reprints should be sent to Nada Nasr Bechwati, Bentley
College, 175 Forest Street, Waltharn, MA 02452. E-mail: nnasr@
ternative (i.e., one that does not objectively maximize the
value function). We further propose that the driving mecha-
nism for such a choice is a negative feeling not yet examined
in the consumer literature-the desire to exact revenge or
"get even" with the firm. Exacting revenge through subse-
quent brand choice, we propose, may provide psychological
utility to these consumers that partially substitutes for or off-
sets the loss of objective product utility.
We know from prior research that dissatisfied consumers
are more likely to switch brands (i.e., leave one firm to join
another; Hirschman, 1970; Richins, 1983). What we don't
understand well is the process by which outraged consumers
choose the next brand to purchase. A key question of interest
in this research thus concerns what happens next (i.e., the
process by which outraged consumers choose the next brand
to purchase). Because previous research addressing re-
sponses to customer dissatisfaction has typically not gone be-
yond the brand exiting point, a key contribution of this re-
search is its focus on postexit behavior-that is, on the nature
of one's choices after the decision to switch to an alternative
provider has been made.
This investigation's focus on consumers' feelings and
their impact on subsequent choice behavior renders this a
more consumer-centric article than most of the prior research
bentley.edu in the customer satisfaction/dissatisfaction stream, which to
date has been largely nlanagerially oriented. Rather than ask-
ing the traditional question: "How is the firm harmed by dis-
satisfied customers'?" (see. e.g.. TARP. 1986), we ask "How
is the consumer hanned by feelings of extreme dissatisfac-
tion?" In effect, although previous research mainly focused
on the impact of dissatisfaction to the firm in terms of nega-
tive image and reduced sales (e.g., Richins, 1983). we are
concerned mainly with its impact on consumer well-being. as
measured by their affective state and the optimality of their
subsequent choice behavior (Bazerman, 2001 j.
Considerable research has examined consumer responses
to dissatisfaction (detailed later) and researchers have re-
ported the existence of outraged and highly frustrated con-
sumers who want to get back at firrils (Blodgett, Hill, & Tax.
1997; Oliver. 1989; Richins, 1983). However. litlle or n o re-
search has specitically examined the nature of consumers'
feelings and the factors that determine how they behaviorally
respond with their si~bsequent product choices when they are
extremely dissatisfied with a purchase experience (i.e., dis-
satisfied to the point of feeling outraged). In this research, we
focus on behavioral and affective processes that are not cov-
ered by previous research and which are unique to outraged
consumers.
Prior research has shown that when consumers aredissatis-
tied with a product or senice provider, they typically exhibit
one of three behaviors. namely they: (a) complain to the pro-
vider. (b) spread neptive word of mouth (WOM) to their
friends and relatives, and/or (c) switch to an alternative pro-
vider and thus "exit" the firm (Blodgett. Granbois, & Walters.
1993: Hirschnian. 1970; Mittal & Kamakura. 2001; Richins.
1981. 1987; Singh. 1990a. 199Ob: Smith. Bolton. & Wagner
1999). All of these options have received fairly extensive re-
search attention. Complaining and engaging in negative
WOM behavior have been widely documented in the literature
(Gilly & Gelb, 1982; Richins. 1983, 1987: Singh. 1990b). In
regard to brand switching behavior. researchers have looked at
numerous factors that increase the likelihood of switching
brands or service providers when a consumer has a ncgative
experience with :I firm (Mittal & Kamakura. 2001; Singli.
19903, 1990b). Studies in the area of service failure and recov-
ery have also looked at how negative customer experiences in
service context% can lead to switching behavior-that is. de-
fection to alternative service providers (e.g.. S~ni t h & Bolton,
1998). Similar behavior has been examined in product con-
texts (Blodgett et al., 1993; Hirschman, 1970).
Despite the fact that consumers in prior studies have re-
ported different levels of dissatisfaction ranging from mild
dissatisfaction to outrage, researchers have treated this group
unifornily as "dissatisfied" consumers. Behavioral reactions
of all dissatisfied consumers were studied in the framework of
the three traditional responses (exiting, complaining, and neg-
ative WOM). It has beenimplicitly assumed by priorresearch-
ers that consumer satisfaction lies along a continuum in tern15
of its impact on behavior, with the more dissatisfied consum-
ers simply exhibiting more of the specific measure of interest
(whether complaining, exiting, or negative WObl) depending
on situational factors (see. e.g., Blodgett et al., 1993: Folkcs,
Koletsky, &Graham. 1987). We argue here that some outraged
colisumers will opt for behaviors that are ylltrlirc~tively differ-
ent than these traditional options. Thus, this research, in con-
trast to most prior research, proposes that not all dissatistied
consulners arc alike. That is. we hypothesi~e not only that ex-
treme dissatisfaction will rewlt in higher level\ of tradition;ll
responses such as brand smitching behavior. but also that ex-
treme levels of dissatisfaction can change the nature of the re-
sponse. Namely. we expect that high levels of the desire to ex-
act revenge on the tirm causing the dissatisfaction can lead to
choosing a suboptimal brand allernative.
Researchers have studied negative ernotions that accotn-
pany consumers' dissatisfying experiences (Oliver. 1989;
Richins, 1997: Westbrook RL Oliver, 1991 ). The emotions re-
ported \,ary not only in intensity but also i n nature. For in-
\tancc, Oliver (1989) suggested that the negatike ernotionh
felt by dissatislicd consumers can vary in increasing intensity
from tolerance to sadness to regret to agitation to outrage. 01-
ivcr ;11so argued that these enlotions vary in type or n:lture.
such as their being internally (31- cxtcmally orienfed. Extreme
negative feelings sirnilsr to outrage, such as frustration, an-
ger. hostility. and irritation. have also been documented in the
consumer literature (Richinr, 1997: Westbrook & Oliver,
I99 I ) , A negative affective response that h 3 not yet been ex-
plicitly investigated in a consumer context is that of the desire
for vengeance.
We define the desire fol.ion.surnrr vetigrunc,P (DCV) as the
relaliatory feelings that consumers feel toward a firm, such as
thc desire to exert some harm on the firm. typically following
an extremely ncgative purchaseexperience. In the psychology
literature, Gabriel and Monaco ( 1994. p. 165) defined ven-
geance more broadly as "the intense. cornpelling wish or i n-
tention to get even. right a wrong. or avenge an injury.'. We
adopt this concept to decision-making contexts. such as those
that involve making product purchase decisions. Outraged
consumers who want to "hurt a firm" (Folkes. 1984) or "get
even withafinn"(B1odgettetal.. 1993) areexperiencing DCV.
which differs from stiundard definitions of customer dissatis-
faction in that it incorporates the hc~haviorul interztion fo act
aguinst the c?f;f'endingjifinlr. Although there are a number of
ways that consumers could potentially respond to extreme dis-
satisfaction, such a by boycotting a firm's products or spread-
ing negative WOM, we limit our focus in this research to an in-
dividual's response in terms of subsequent product choice
beh ;I\ .' lor,
CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
To x\,cnge a perceived injury. decision makers might act irra-
tionally (Elliot. Eccles. & Gournay. 1996; Seiders & Berry.
1998). Although the psychology literature on the topic of
vcngcance is rather sparse. it suggests that feelings of ven-
442 NASR BECHWATI AND MORRIN
geance can impact decision makers' choice behavior.
Studying the effect of intense negative emotions on decision
making, Lowenstein (2000) found that people may act in
ways that are not in their own self-interest as a result of those
emotions. Elster (1998) identified cases of revenge and anger
that can get to "the point of no return," a point where decision
makers may act irrationally.
One reason for decision makers' irrational behavior is
their desire to seek vengeance, or their inability to avoid
seeking vengeance, even if vengeance comes at a cost
(Seiders & Berry, 1998). Although it is not precisely clear
how vengeance works, apparently it is seen as providing a
certain satisfaction or relief and as a coping mechanism for
problems (Gabriel & Monaco, 1994). The implication is that
getting even can become a dominating objective of future ac-
tions. Several examples of irrational behavior performed to
achieve vengeance have been reported in sports (Zillman,
Bryant, & Sapolsky, 1979) and political elections (Abraham
& Weiss, 2000). Similar responses are expected to occur in
competitive consumer markets.
We propose that outraged consumers will tend to direct
their anger toward the firm. The psychology literature in hu-
man emotions suggests that the object of an emotion is closely
tied to its cognitive antecedent (Elster, 1998). Thus, anger and,
consequently, revenge, tend to be object-specific (Elster,
1998; Oliver, 1989). The object of anger or target of revenge is
the person or party who we believe has hurt us, either by dam-
aging our self-identity or by violating our trust (Bies & Tripp,
1996). We refer to this entity in this research as the "perpetra-
tor" of injustice. In business contexts, the perpetrator of injus-
tice is the firm with which the problem occurred.
When consumers are dissatisfied with afirm, they typically
face a numter of choice options. They could decide to simply
stay with the firm and continue purchasing its products. This is
referred to here as apassive response to a perceived injustice.
Alternatively, they couldexit that firm and switch to acompeti-
tor. If the consumer examines product offerings from among
the remaining competitors and chooses the objectively opti-
mal alternative (e.g., based on the lowest per-unit price for a
commodity type item), thisis termedareactiveresponse. Such
a choice is a fairly rational response and would be predicted by
much of the economics and choice literature based on notions
of utility maximization. However, consumers may instead, in
the pursuit of vengeance, exit the original firm and make a
choice that is not in their best interest but which they perceive
may allow them to get even with the perpetrator. We refer to
this as proactive response. Note that we use the term
"proactive" merely to reflect the fact that the consumer is en-
gaging in a deliberate behavioral response; it is not meant to
suggest that such a response is a positive or desirable one.
We propose that some consumers experiencing intense
dissatisfaction will respond in such a proactive manner. Out-
raged consumers might not find it sufficiently satisfying to
simply exit the firm as per Hirschman's (1970) framework.
Exiting merely returns one to the no-relationship level. What
consumers often want is to hit the firm where it hurts the
most-they want to "avenge an injury." The best exit, there-
fore, may be perceived to be one that involves shifting one's
purchases specifically to that firm's fiercest competitor, re-
gardless of whether it represents the optimal choice from the
competitive set (e.g., even if its prices are higher than other
competitors providing the same service). For example, in the
past a consumer upset with MCI may have decided to switch
to Sprint, its number one rival, rather than to other firms con-
sidered to be less of a threat to MCI, even if they offered a
better deal. We propose that if an injustice is perceived as suf-
ficiently severe in nature, consumers will generally be more
motivated to exact revenge on the perpetrator with their sub-
sequent choices. Based on this, we hypothesize that:
HI: As the DCV increases, consumers are more likely to
move from a passive (loyalty) to a reactive (switch to
optimal alternative) to a proactive (switch to
suboptimal alternative) choice response.
Although H1 might look quite intuitive, the most interest-
ing aspect of it is that it suggests that consumers who reach a
sufficiently high level of dissatisfaction will, eventually, act
proactively. That is, rather than rationally choosing the best
alternative from among the remaining assortment of brands,
after an extremely dissatisfying experience, some consumers
will switch instead to the brand that allows them to elicit
some sort of harm and thus exact revenge on the original
product or service provider. They will do so even if it in-
volves choosing the alternative that does not maximize their
utility, at least in the traditional sense of the term (e.g., per-
ceived value). This is because exacting revenge is a coping
strategy that provides emotional value, which can, in a sense,
substitute for product value. A similar phenomenon has been
demonstrated in the regret literature, where researchers have
shown that consumers are willing to trade off financial return
to avoid possible feelings of regret (Bell, 1982; Inman, Dyer,
& Jia, 1997; Zeelenberg, Beattie, Van Der Plight, & De
Vries, 1996).
What leads to a high level of DCV and, consequently, the
taking of revenge by consumers against firms? Much re-
search attention has been devoted to investigating an array of
moderating and mediating variables to better understand
when dissatisfied consumers are likely to respond in a certain
manner (e.g., complain rather than switch brands). For this
purpose, researchers have drawn on attribution theory
(Folkes, 1984; Folkes et al., 1987; Oliver, 1989), equity the-
ory, and the related notion of perceived injustice (Blodgett et
al., 1993; Huppertz, Arenson, & Evans, 1978). Overall, they
have found that, given dissatisfaction, consumers' reaction is
contingent on a number of situational and interpersonal fac-
tors. Those factors include, among others, inferences about
who caused the failure and the extent of the firm's control of
the situation that led to failure (Folkes, 1984; Folkes et al.,
1987; Oliver, 1989), perceptions of the redress environment
OUTRAGED CONSUMERS 443
(Blodgett et al., 1993), and the consumer's level of social in-
teraction (Richins, 1987).
We focus on perceived justice theory to outline the factors
that result in high levels of DCV and vengeful behavior for
several reasons. First, prior researchers have suggested that
the concept of perceived injustice lies at the heart of ven-
geance (Bies & Tripp, 1996; Stuckless & Goranson, 1992).
Second, the idea of perceived justice can usefully be applied
to any stage of the entire conflict situation rather than to just
one particular stage, such as the cause of the conflict. Al-
though attribution theory has substantially advanced our un-
derstanding of consumers' reactions to dissatisfying experi-
ences (Folkes, 1984; Folkes et al., 1987), it focuses only on
the cause of the problem between consumers and firms
(Folkes et al., 1987; Weiner, Russell, & Lerman, 1979). To
fully understand the evolution of a conflict between consum-
ers and firms, a framework is needed to study the entire pro-
cess of the conflict, including all stages, such as the
postcomplaint stage. The perceived justice concept is broad
in nature and provides the necessary theoretical foundation
for studying all such stages of conflict. Finally, the fact that
previous researchers have already outlined the various di-
mensions of perceived justice (i.e., distributive, procedural,
and interactional; see later) makes it possible to perform a
more thorough diagnostic analysis of the factors that trigger
DCV and vengeful responses.
The concept of perceived justice has its theoretical roots
in the legal, organizational behavior, and political science lit-
eratures (Lind & Tyler, 1988; Thibault & Walker, 1975).
Building on the foundations of equity theory, researchers in
those fields suggest that individuals who are involved in con-
flicts or disputes act based on their perception of justicelin-
justice in a particular situation (Blodgett et al., 1993; Finkel,
Crystal, & Watanabe, 2001). Within this framework, justice
is conceptualized in terms of three dimensions: (a) distribu-
tive justice, (b) procedural justice, and (c) interactional jus-
tice (Blodgett et al., 1997; Seiders & Berry, 1998). Distribu-
tive justice is concerned with the perceived fairness of the
tangible outcome (e.g., credit for excess billing charges).
Procedural justice refers to the perceived fairness of the pro-
cedures used in arriving at that outcome (e.g., policies and
rules applied). Interactional justice is the perceived fairness
of the manner in which individuals were treated throughout
the conflict resolution process (e.g., courtesy of employees
handling the complaint).
The concept of perceived justice has been previously ap-
plied in marketing contexts to study consumer response to
dissatisfaction (see, e.g., Boldgett et al., 1993). These re-
searchers have attempted to understand the roles played by
the various components of perceived justice in dissatisfying
experiences. Their findings have been mixed. In effect,
Blodgett et al. (1997) found interactional justice to have the
largest impact on consumer's subsequent behavior, but
Goodwin and Ross (1992) found that interactional justice
plays a role only when the outcome of a conflict was per-
ceived as good enough (i.e., when distributive justice was
high). Interestingly, perceptions of different types of injus-
tice led to different retaliatory behaviors (Skarlicki & Folger,
1997; Williams, 1999).
We argue that consumers' desire for vengeance and their
tendency to react proactively after a dissatisfying experi-
ence will be determined primarily by how well they are
treated during the redress process (i.e., on the level of
interactional justice). Although the tangible outcome or re-
dress of a dissatisfying experience with a firm has been
found to be the main determinant of complaining, the lack
of distributive justice is not expected to be the primary de-
terminant of proactive consumer responses. We propose
that a proactive response, that is, one that involves acting ir-
rationally and suboptimally, requires the activation of "hot"
cognitions (Bies & Tripp, 1996). Hot cognitions are acti-
vated when consumers feel affected personally ("War
Crimes of the Heart," 1992). Thus, if one has been treated
rudely by a customer service representative, we propose
that merely having the original product or service problem
fixed will not be an adequate response on the part of a firm
to ameliorate the negative affect felt by the customer.
Therefore, we expect that when treated appropriately
(e.g., politely and with respect), consumers who do not ob-
tain the outcome they desire or expect will tend to switch to
another firm, but won't have enough desire for vengeance to
choose a suboptimal brand alternative to get even with the of-
fending firm. Although upset, they are not likely to feel a per-
sonal hurt. On the other hand, when treated inappropriately
(e.g., rudely and with disrespect) in association with a dissat-
isfying experience, consumers will believe not only that they
were wronged, but will experience a personal hurt and thus
feel that they are owed an apology (Folkes, 1984). Being
treated rudely and without respect, on top of the initial dissat-
isfying experience, comes as a strong surprise and opposite
to what was expected. Indeed, the personal offense may be
perceived by consumers as damaging to their self-identity. A
damaged self-identity has been found in prior research to be a
main antecedent to feelings of vengeance (Stikin & Roth,
1993). Hence, a perceived personal offense is likely to result
in high levels of DCV and, thus, a tendency to act proactively
(i.e., with revenge). To summarize, a proactive response is
expected when low interactional justice occurs, regardless of
how adequately the firm fixes the initial problem (i.e., regard-
less of the level of perceived distributive justice). More for-
mally, we hypothesize the following:
H2a: Consumers who are treated rudely at the redress stage
will experience a higher level of DCV than those who
are treated politely, regardless of the outcome of the
redress.
H2b: Consumers who are treated rudely at the redress stage
will act more proactively than those who are treated
politely, regardless of the outcome of the redress.
444 NASR BECHWATI AND MORRIN
Issues addressed in H2a and H2b are important because to
understand consumers' subsequent feelings and behaviors,
one needs to understand consumers' perceptions of justice at
the redress stage. Consumers who encounter a dissatisfying
experience with a firm may feel that they were wronged
(Stuckless & Goranson, 1992). Hoping that the firm will ad-
just its wrong-doing, consumers tend to complain when the
problem is severe and they are angry with the firm (Folkes et
al., 1987). Research has shown that, once they complain,
consumers' future reactions to their dissatisfying experience
are mainly determined by what happens at the postcomplaint
stage (Blodgett et al., 1993).
Two studies were conducted to test the hypotheses. The
purpose of Study 1 was to investigate whether, given a suffi-
ciently negative product experience, some consumers would
choose to act proactively to get even with a firm, and whether
they would be more likely to do so as the DCV rises. Thus,
Study 1 was designed to test H1. The purpose of Study 2 was
to more precisely examine how two key aspects of perceived
justice in a redress attempt by a firm trigger both the DCV
and subsequent choice behavior. Study 2 was thus designed
to test H2a and H2b.
STUDY 1
Method
Participants and Design
A total of 232 undergraduates participated in the study for
partial course credit. The mean age was 20.7 years; 59%
were women. Participants were randomly assigned to one of
three vengeance conditions: low (n = 55), moderate (n = 81),
or high (n = 96). We deliberately over-sampled the higher
vengeance conditions to have a sufficient number of
proactive responses for analysis.
Procedure
Each participant received a booklet concerning a scenario
regarding the purchase and use of long-distance telephone
service. Participants first read a newspaper article describing
the high level of competition in the telecommunications in-
dustry. This was used to convey to respondents that there ex-
ists a high level of competition in the market and that the two
key rivals are 10-10-123 and 10-10-ABC. Then, they were
asked to imagine a scenario in which they had a problem with
a long distance carrier (10-10-123; i.e., the perpetrator of in-
justice). The three conditions differed in how severe the
problem was and what happened at the redress stage when
the consumer called the customer service department and
complained about it (see Appendix A). These manipulations
were based on the fact that prior research has shown that
problem severity (Folkes, 1984) and level of problem resolu-
tion (Blodgett et al., 1993) affect the inflammation of a con-
flict situation. Consumers' likelihood to switch to another
company was measured.
Next, participants were given details about product offers
from two other firms, one of which was a main competitor to
10-10-123 (i.e., the perpetrator's "enemy"), as clearly stated
in the newspaper article read at the very beginning. The offer
by 10-10-123's largest rival was clearly inferior to the other
offer in terms of pricing. Although both offers provided iden-
tical services, 10- 10- 123's largest rival charged the same fee
on five services but charged more on two other services than
the other firm (see Appendix B). A pretest conducted among
34 undergraduate participants had previously established
that 10-10-ABC was perceived to be an inferior offer by
100% of the pretest participants.
Participants then decided whether they wanted to: (a) stay
with 10-10-123, the original service provider; (b) switch to
the competitor with the lowest prices; or (c) switch to
10- 10- 123's largest rival (i.e., the perpetrator's enemy) that
provided identical services at a higher price. Having chosen,
respondents reported satisfaction with their choice, percep-
tion of which offer provided better value for their money, and
level of desire for vengeance toward 10-10- 123 (i.e., DCV).
Then respondents were asked to name the major competitor
to 10-10-123 as a check to see whether they had adequately
comprehended this information, evaluate the realism of the
scenario, answer a probe question regarding research pur-
pose, and answer a few demographic questions.
Manipulation of Independent Variable
As mentioned previously, DCV was manipulated using
problem severity and degree of problem resolution during the
redress stage. Participants were provided with pricing expec-
tations based on advertisements but then were told they re-
ceived a bill with actual charges higher than expected (See
Appendix A). Participants in the low-vengeance condition
read a scenario in which they faced a minor problem with
10-10-123 that was fully resolved upon complaint. Partici-
pants in the moderate vengeance condition had a more severe
problem that was only partially resolved after complaining.
Those in the high-vengeance condition read about a very se-
vere problem that was not resolved at all upon complaint.
Complaint handling in these manipulations took the form of
the degree to which the customer service representative was
willing to admit the company's error and to adjust the cus-
tomer's bill.
Results
Manipulation Check
DCV: DCV was measured with a 5-item, Likert-type
scale. The DCV scale was modeled after the Stuckless and
Goranson (1992) personality trait scale, designed to measure
an individual's eagerness to avenge. Modifications were
made to the scale items to reflect the fact that it measures a
OUTRAGED CONSUMERS 445
state construct rather than a personality trait. The scale items
are listed in Appendix C.
The five-item DCV scale had a coefficient alpha of 361.
A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) conducted on the
DCV as a function of vengeance condition was significant,
F(2, 229) = 25.78, p < .0001. As shown in Table 1, those in
the low-vengeance condition felt less desire for vengeance
(M = 2.68) than those in the moderate vengeance condition
(M = 3.34, p < .005 vs. low vengeance) or high-vengeance
condition (M = 4.18, p < .0001 vs. low vengeance). The dif-
ference in desire for vengeance between the moderate and
high conditions was also significant ( p < .0001).
Other Checks
Scenario realism. We measured the degree of sce-
nario realism with two bipolar items (Realistic, Likely in real
life; coefficient of correlation = .776, p < .001). An analysis
of variance conducted on scenario realism as a function of
vengeance condition was not significant, F(2,229) = 2.29, p
> .lo. Thus, all groups of participants perceived the choice
scenarios to be about equally realistic. This result helps to
rule out a possible alternative explanation for the results ob-
tained. The overall mean was 5.98 on a scale ranging from 1
to 7, with 7 being very realistic, implying that participants
generally perceived the scenarios as fairly realistic.
Value for money Participants were asked which of the
two alternative offers provide more value for their money and
were given the options of choosing either offer or indicating
that both offers provide equal value for money. Perceptions
of value for the two switching options did not differ signifi-
cantly among respondents by condition, x2(4) = 1 . 5 3 , ~ > .80.
This result helps to rule out an alternative explanation for the
main results. Most (77%) believed that the "better value" op-
tion provided better value for money than did the suboptimal
choice alternative. This result confirms that of the pretest
concerning the suboptimality of the perpetrator's enemy
brand. Almost all other respondents (22%) believed the two
switching alternatives provided about equal value for money.
Because the pricing structures of these two options were not
severely different (i.e., a relatively mild manipulation: pric-
ing for the suboptimal option was slightly higher on just two
of seven items), this is a reasonable result. Finally, partici-
pants who switched to the suboptimal alternative perceived it
as equally or less valuable than the other alternative, thus
they did not choose it based on the perception of superior ob-
jective value.
Main Results
Choice. We treated this dependent variable as an ordi-
nal measure in terms of the degree of action represented by
the consumer's choice response. Specifically, a participant
could, after exposure to the scenario, decide to simply keep
using the current long-distance provider (i.e., a passive re-
sponse). Alternatively, the participant could decide to switch
to another provider. If participants decided to switch, they
could switch to either the alternative supplier that provided
better value for money (i.e., reactive response) or to the alter-
native supplier that provided less value for money (i.e.,
proactive response). The three possible responses were
treated in an ordinal manner, although no assumptions were
made regarding the equality of intervals between adjacent
categories (Long, 1997).
An ordered logistic regression on the choice data was fit
using a proportional odds model (McCullagh, 1980). Maxi-
mum likelihood estimation was used to fit a model for the
three-level ordinal dependent variable (0 = stay/do not
switch, 1 = reactive/switch to better value, 2 =
proactive/switch to suboptimal perpetrator's enemy) as a
function of vengeance condition (1 = low, 2 = moderate, 3 =
high). The score test for parallel lines was not significant,
x2(1) = 1.73, p > .15, indicating that the assumption of pro-
portional odds is a reasonable one for this data set (Stokes,
Davis, & Koch, 1995). Model fit was assessed with the likeli-
hood ratio test, x2(1) = 91.22, p < .0001, and the score test,
x2(1) = 77.18, p < .0001, both of which indicated adequate
model fit.
Vengeance condition emerged as a statistically significant
predictor of choice behavior, Wald(1) = 55.82, p < .0001, as
hypothesized in HI . Actual choice outcomes as a function of
vengeance condition are presented in Table 2. Differences
among mean proportions were tested with likelihood ratio
chi-square tests. These data indicate that in the low-ven-
geance condition, the percentage of participants switching
from the original service provider is relatively low (36.4%).
Switching behavior rises markedly under conditions of either
moderate (86.4%), x2(1) = 37.58, p < .001, or high (99%),
x2(1) = 82.65, p < .001 vengeance. The choice patterns of
TABLE 1
Consumers' Feelings by Vengeance Condition: Study 1
-
Vengeance Condition
Consumers' Feelings Low (n = 55) Moderate (n = 81) High (n = 96)
Desire for consumer vengence 2.68 3.34b 4.1 gc
Choice satisfaction 5.40 4.70" 4.47
Note. Each mean is compared to the corresponding mean in the preceding column.
$ < .05. bp <. 01. cp < ,001.
446 NASR BECHWATI AND MORRIN
TABLE 2
Consumer Choice Outcome by Vengeance Condition: Study 1
Choice Outcome
Vengeance Condition Do Not Switch Switch to Optimal Alternative Switch to Nonoptimal Alternative Total
Low 63.6% 36.4% . 0% 100%
Moderate 13.6% 82.7% 3.7% 100%
High 1 .O% 86.5% 12.5% 100%
participants who decided to switch service providers were
next examined. Although over a third of the low-vengeance
participants decided to switch service providers, none of
them (0.0%) decided to switch to the suboptimal alternative
(i.e., the perpetrator's enemy). The likelihood of choosing the
suboptimal alternative did not rise significantly among par-
ticipants in the moderate vengeance condition (3.33% of
those who switched), ~2( 1) = 1.54, ns. However, participants
in the high-vengeance condition exhibited a significantly
higher likelihood of switching to the suboptimal alternative
(12.63% of those who switched), ~2( 1) = 4 . 8 7 , ~ c .05 versus
the low-vengeance condition. Participants in the high-ven-
geance condition were also directionally more likely to
choose the suboptimal alternative than were participants in
the moderate vengeance condition, ~2( 1) = 3.69, p = .055.
We also looked at the level of DCV by choice outcome.
Participants who switched to the suboptimal brand alterna-
tive reported a DCV (M = 4.08) higher than those who either
stayed with the initial firm or switched to the optimal offer, M
= 3.59, F(1, 230) = 7.205, p < .01. Moreover, among the
brand switchers, those who switched to the suboptimal alter-
native reported a DCV (M = 4.08) higher than those who
switched to the optimal offer, M = 3.66, F(1, 138) = 5.138, p
< .05, implying that very high levels of DCV are required to
activate vengeful choice behavior.
This set of results suggests that only moderate levels of
vengeance are required to more than double the likelihood of
a customer switching to a competitive service provider. In ad-
dition, very high levels of DCV can lead a significant propor-
tion of customers to switch to an alternative that is objec-
tively recognized (in pretests and manipulation checks) as
providing less value for the money-what would tradition-
ally be considered a suboptimal choice outcome. This deci-
sion, to switch to the perpetrator's enemy even though it costs
more for the same services, allows the decision maker to "get
back at" the firm that is perceived to have done the consumer
an injustice. We speculate that although there is less objective
utility obtained from such an outcome, there is likely a signif-
icant emotional utility obtained.
Choice satisfaction. The coefficient of correlation be-
tween the two items in this scale (Satisfied: not at all, very;
Content: not at all, very) was .673, p < .0001. An ANOVA
conducted on choice satisfaction by condition was signifi-
cant, F(2,229) = 5.69, p < .005. Satisfaction decreased in the
higher vengeance conditions. Specifically, choice satisfac-
tion in the low-vengeance condition (M = 5.40) was higher
than that in the moderate- (M = 4.70, p < .05) or high-ven-
geance (M = 4.47, p < .001) conditions. Satisfaction levels
did not differ between those in the moderate- and high-ven-
geance conditions ( p > .35). Interestingly, among those who
switched providers, satisfaction levels did not differ between
those who switched to the optimal offer (M = 4.653) versus
those who switched to the suboptimal offer, M = 4.933,
t(183) = 0.62, p > S O. Thus, it would appear that the switch-
ers choosing to exact revenge were not any less satisfied than
those who switched to the optimal provider, even though
those exacting revenge were getting a worse deal for their
money.
STUDY 2
Study 1 demonstrated that, given a sufficiently negative prod-
uct or service experience, consumers can indeed experience a
desire for vengeance and be motivated to exact revenge on a
firm through subsequent choice behavior. Study 1 showed
that some consumers will choose a suboptimal choice alter-
native to exact revenge, and that they are no less satisfied
with their choice outcome than those who choose the optimal
alternative. This set of results raises a number of interesting
questions such as: Which aspects of the service encounter
tend to trigger the DCV feeling? Under what circumstances
do consumers behave proactively?
Study 1 falls short of delineating the triggers of DCV and
the consequent proactive response. To manipulate vengeance
condition in Study 1, we varied a number of factors, includ-
ing the severity of the initial problem, the personal treatment
by the firm's employee, and the outcome of the complaint
(see Appendix A). Because the aim of Study 1 was to demon-
strate that sufficiently outraged consumers would behave
proactively, we were mainly concerned with providing a
strong manipulation of the desire for vengeance. However,
because the Study 1 manipulation involved varying more
than one aspect of a negative product or service experience, it
is not yet clear what are the specific situational triggers of
consumer vengeance. Study 2 was designed to address this
issue.
Study 2 examines which specific aspects of a product or
service experience lead to a high level of DCV and resulting
OUTRAGED CONSUMERS 447
proactive response by manipulating two aspects of consum-
ers' perceptions of justice of the firm's redress attempt: dis-
tributive and interactional justice. As discussed previously,
we expected that DCV and vengeful behavioral responses
would be driven primarily by the perceived level of
interactional rather than distributive justice (i.e., by whether
or not the customer was treated with respect, irrespective of
the tangible outcome of the redress stage).
Method
Participants and Design
A total of 93 undergraduate students participated in this
study. The experiment consisted of a 2 x 2 (Interactional Jus-
tice: Low and High x Distributive Justice: Low and High) be-
tween-subjects design. Participants were randomly assigned
to one of the four conditions.
Procedure
Similar to Study 1, participants were asked to imagine a
scenario in which they had a billing problem with a long dis-
tance carrier (10- 10- 123). Participants first read the same
newspaper-like article used in Study 1, which describes the
high level of competition in the telecommunications industry
and clearly states that 10-10-ABC is the key rival to
10-10-123. Then, they were asked to imagine a situation de-
scribed in a particular service encounter scenario. In all ex-
perimental conditions, the same severe initial problem was
described. What was manipulated was how the customer ser-
vice department handled the complaint of the consumer (de-
scribed in more detail later). Measures of problem severity
and consumers' likelihood to switch to another company
were taken.
Next, similar to Study 1, participants were given details
about product offers from two other firms. The slightly more
expensive offer was provided by 10-10-ABC, the main com-
petitor to 10-10-123 (see Appendix A). Respondents then de-
cided whether they wanted to: (a) stay with 10-10-123, (b)
switch to the competitor with the lowest price, or (c) switch
to 10-10-123's fiercest rival (10- 10-ABC), which offered
identical services but at a slightly higher price. Having cho-
sen, respondents then reported satisfaction with their choice,
perception of which offer provided better value for their
money, and level of desire for vengeance toward 10-10- 123
(i.e., DCV). Respondents were also asked to name the major
competitor to 10-10-123 and to evaluate the realism of the
scenario.
Manipulation of Independent Variables
See Appendix D for the manipulations of perceived jus-
tice (i.e., what happens to the consumer upon seeking redress
from the firm) in each of the four experimental conditions.
Manipulations of interactional and distributive justice were
carefully designed to make sure that all four experimental
conditions had the same level of procedural justice.
Interactional justice. To manipulate interactional jus-
tice, we altered the type of response from employees in the
customer service department. In the high interactional justice
condition, the firm's employees: (a) responded in a polite
manner, (b) apologized, and (c) admitted it was clearly the
firm's mistake. In the low interactional justice condition, the
employees (a) responded in a rude manner, (b) did not apolo-
gize, and (c) implied it was the customer's mistake. The pres-
ence andlor absence of apology has been used by previous re-
searchers to manipulate interactional justice (Goodwin &
Ross, 1992).
Distributive justice. To manipulate distributive justice,
we altered the monetary adjustment resulting from the con-
sumer's conversation with the supervisor in the customer ser-
vice department. In the high distributive justice condition,
the supervisor agreed to eliminate all extra charges and credit
the customer's account. In the low distributive justice condi-
tion, the supervisor informed the customer that, in case of no
payment, the firm would start charging an interest on the
amount due.
Results
Manipulation Checks
Interactional justice. Two 7-point Likert statements
(courteous employees; treated badly) were used to examine
the manipulation of interactional justice. The coefficient of
correlation for the two items in this scale was .83 1 (p < .001).
The manipulation check, F(1, 91) = 208.51, p < .001, indi-
cated that participants felt that they were better treated by the
firm in the high interactional justice condition (M = 4.54)
than in the low (M = 1.26, p < .001) condition, as expected.
Distributive justice. Two 7-point Likert statements
(billing problem fixed; unfair charges deleted) were used to
examine the manipulation of distributive justice. The coeffi-
cient of correlation for the two items in this scale was .779 (p
< .001). The manipulation check, F(1, 91) = 9 2 . 1 , ~ < .001,
indicated that the outcome of the problem they had with the
firm was perceived as fairer in the high distributive justice
condition (M = 3.8) than in the low (M = 1.29, p < .001) con-
dition, as expected.
Other Checks
Scenario realism. We measured the degree of scenario
realism with two bipolar items (Realistic, Likely in real life;
coefficient of correlation =.837, p < .001). An analysis of
variance conducted on scenario realism as a function of
interactional justice, distributive justice, and their interaction
revealed no significant effects. Thus, all groups of partici-
448 NASR BECHWATI AND MORRIN
pants perceived the scenarios to be about equally realistic.
The overall mean was 5.83 on a scale ranging from 1 to 7
with 7 being very realistic, implying that participants per-
ceived the scenarios as fairly realistic.
Value for money Perceptions of value for the two
switching options did not differ significantly among respon-
dents by condition, ~ * ( 3 ) = 5.27, p = .153. Most (85%) be-
lieved that the "better value" option provided better value for
money than did the suboptimal choice alternative, as ex-
pected. All other respondents (15%) believed the two switch-
ing alternatives provided about equal value for money. Par-
ticipants who switched to the suboptimal alternative
perceived it as equally (33.3%) or less valuable (66.7%) than
the other alternative.
Main Results
Choice. Of the 93 participants only 3 chose to stay with
10-10-123. This result is not surprising, given that all condi-
tions were exposed to the same high level of problem sever-
ity. Of the 90 participants who chose to leave 10- 10-123, 6
switched to the suboptimal alternative (i.e., to rival
10-10-ABC). Table 3 shows the percentages of respondents
who switched to the suboptimal alternative by perceived jus-
tice condition. As shown in Table 3, all respondents who
made the suboptimal choice were in the low interactional jus-
tice condition.
Given the categorical nature of the dependent variable
(choice) and the independent variables (interactional justice
and distributive justice), a multinomial logit analysis was
conducted to examine the effects of the two types of per-
ceived justice and their interaction. Of all possible models,
including those allowing for an interaction between the two
types of justice, the only model that was not significantly dif-
ferent from the saturated model was the model containing
interactional justice, x2(2) = .60, p > .70. Models including
distributive justice, ~2( 2) = 7.28, p < .05, and the interaction
between the two types of justice, ~2( 3) = 7.49, p = .05, were
significantly different from the saturated model. Taken to-
gether, these results imply that interactional justice played
the most significant role in affecting choice. More specifi-
cally, 11.5% of participants in the low interactional justice
condition chose the suboptimal brand (i.e., when treated
rudely), whereas none of those in the high interactional juS-
tice condition did so (i.e., when treated politely; p < .05). In
other words, the proportion of participants choosing the
suboptimal brand did not depend on tangible outcomes, i.e.,
on whether the level of distributive justice was high (5.0%) or
low (7.6%, p > SO). The results of a Kruskal-Wallis analysis
also support a significant role for interactional justice, x2(1)
= 4.646, p < .05, and an insignificant role for distributive jus-
tice, ~2( 1) = .206, p > .60, in influencing switching behavior.
Hence, H2b is supported.
DCK A scale identical to that used in Study 1 was used
to measure DCV (see Appendix B). The scale had a
Cronbach's alpha of .823. An analysis of variance conducted
on DCV as a function of interactional justice, distributive jus-
tice, and their interaction revealed significant effects for both
interactional justice, F(1, 89) = 8.366, p < .01, and distribu-
tive justice, F(1, 89) = 13. 07, ~ < .001, but not for their inter-
action, F(l,89) = .117, p > .70. Respondents in the low con-
dition of interactional justice felt a higher DCV than those in
the high condition, MI,, = 4.958 versus Mhigh = 4.356, t(91) =
2.338, p < .05. Interestingly, however, DCV was significantly
influenced by the level of distributive justice as well, MI,, =
5.038 versus Mhigh = 4.235, t(91) = 3. 186, ~ < .005. Taken to-
gether, these results imply that obtaining a poor outcome
(i.e., low distributive justice) increases the stated desire for
vengeance, but only the rude experience with the firm's em-
ployees (i.e., low interactional justice) acts as a trigger for
vengeful choice behavior.
Choice satisfaction. A three-item scale was designed
to measure respondents' satisfaction with their choice (sat-
isfied; disappointed; and felt relief). Similar items have
been used to measure choice satisfaction in previous re-
search (see, e.g., Mittal & Kamakura, 2001). The scale had
a Cronbach's alpha of .72. An ANOVA conducted on
choice satisfaction as a function of interactional justice, dis-
tributive justice, and their interaction revealed no signifi-
cant effects. Interestingly, among those who switched pro-
viders, those who switched to the suboptimal choice (i.e.,
the enemy's enemy) felt no less satisfied with their choice
than those who switched to the optimal alternative,
Msuboptimal = 5.50 versus Moptimal = 4.73, t(88) = 1.58, p >
.lo. This result mirrors that obtained in Study 1, suggesting
TABLE 3
Percentage of Subjects Choosing Suboptimal Brand by Perceived Justice Condition: Study 2
Distributive Justice
Interactional Justice Low High Total
Low
High
Total
Note. Marginal percentages are compared using chi-square analysis.
an=26. bn=52Cn= 15. dn=41 en=93. *p<. 05. **p<. 5.
OUTRAGED CONSUMERS 449
that the exacting of revenge may provide an emotional sat-
isfaction that offsets the loss of objective product utility. In
Study 2, where all participants experience a severe prob-
lem, the few respondents who chose to stay with 10-10-123
were the least satisfied with their choice, Mstay = 3.88 ver-
sus MOptimaj = 4.73, t ( 85) = 1.268, p > .20.
GENERAL DISCUSSION
Consumer vengeance is a relatively unexplored but impor-
tant behavioral phenomenon. It takes only a few very dis-
gruntled customers to initiate a potentially devastating
chain of events affecting a firm's brands. Witness, for ex-
ample, the recent proliferation of brand-specific hate sites
on the web (e.g., microsoftsucks.com) that are created by
one or a few individuals but can be seen by hundreds or
thousands of others. Although the focus of this research
was limited to consumers' choice behavior following dis-
satisfying customer experiences, the impact of outraged
consumers' feelings and likely subsequent behavior has
even broader implications for corporations. The psycholog-
ical mechanisms underlying this intriguing form of choice
behavior were the major focus of this research. In brief, we
found that very dissatisfying experiences can indeed lead
consumers to exact revenge on firms through their subse-
quent choice behavior, and further, that it is the degree of
interactional justice they perceive (i.e., how politely or
rudely they are treated) and not the degree of distributional
justice (i.e., whether or not their problem was fixed) that
drives the vengeful behavioral response.
In Study 1, the DCV,was measured and found to be pos-
itively associated with a tendency toward switching behav-
ior on the part of consumers. Furthermore, when DCV was
high, a significant proportion of consumers, after making
the decision to exit the firm, subsequently chose a rival
brand that charged higher prices than did another competi-
tor (for the same services) to get back at the original service
provider. Although previous researchers have reported in-
stances of behavior that cannot be explained rationally on
the part of angry decision makers (Elster, 1998;
Lowenstein, 2000), this study offers empirical evidence of
consumers behaving suboptimally for the purposes of get-
ting even with a firm. Moreover, this study unveils one
form of consumer response to dissatisfaction, taking re-
venge against a brand, that is different in nature from the
traditionally studied ones of complaint, negative WOM,
and exit.
Findings of Study 2 shed light on the mechanisms un-
derlying vengeance as a feeling and as a behavior. Two as-
pects of perceived justice, interactional and distributive,
were examined as possible psychological triggers to ven-
geance. Results showed that the tangible outcome of a com-
plaint (i.e., perception of distributive justice) is a significant
determinant of the feeling of DCV. However, it takes a per-
ception of bad personal treatment (i.e., low interactional
injustice) for consumers to behave suboptimally or with re-
venge. In effect, the strong feelings of DCV led to a reac-
tive switching behavior in cases of negative tangible out-
comes. However, those feelings were not converted into a
proactive response unless the consumer was also treated
rudely. In fact, acting vengefully (i.e., proactively) came as
a result of bad personal treatment regardless of the tangible
outcome of the dispute.
Findings of Study 2 help explain some differences in find-
ings of previous research concerning the relative impact of
interactional and distributive justices on retaliatory responses
(see, e.g., Blodgett et. al, 1997; Goodwin & Ross, 1992). Al-
though previous studies have reported results pertaining either
to affectiveresponse such as satisfaction (see, e.g., Goodwin &
Ross, 1992) or to behavioral response such as spreading nega-
tive WOM (see, e.g., Blodgett et al., 1997), both consumers'
feelings (DCV) and behavior (acting proactively) were mea-
sured in Study 2. Our findings are consistent with previous re-
search that has revealed an important role for distributive jus-
tice in influencing consumers' feelings and a key role for
interactional justice in determining retaliatory behavior. Our
findings are also in line with research in service recovery that
has emphasized the importance of interpersonal interaction
with consumers and the prevention of retaliatory behavior that
could be achieved through simple apology (Smith & Bolton,
1998; Singh, 1990a).
Further research is needed to better understand the ven-
geance construct and the underlying psychological mecha-
nisms, as antecedents and as consequences. In both of our
studies, we demonstrated that consumers experience a de-
sire for vengeance and that some of them act on this desire.
However, those who acted proactively were not signifi-
cantly more satisfied with their choice than other consum-
ers. Hence, it is still not clear why vengeance is sought and
perhaps even valued by the concerned parties. Does exact-
ing consumer vengeance provide customers with an affec-
tive coping mechanism that substitutes for product value, as
we have suggested? Is it that those parties feel helpless and
perceive that getting even will make them regain a power
that they had lost? Do those parties feel that by getting even
they re-establish a self-esteem that they had lost? Ad-
dressing similar queries would help uncover important as-
pects of human behavior.
The role of personal treatment (i.e., interactional justice)
has important managerial implications. First, firms' training
of customer service employees to be courteous seems to be of
great importance, particularly for those firms that tend to fo-
cus on redress outcome while not paying enough attention to
personal interaction. Firms that adopt policies where rude
employees' behavior is followed by a letter addressing the
monetary problem should take heed. Our results suggest
those policies may be ineffective in preventing customers
from acting proactively. A relatively low-cost approach, a
simple apology, may instead be particularly effective. Simi-
450 NASR BECHWATI AND MORRIN
lar implications can be drawn for contexts other than busi-
ness, especially where there exists a high potential for venge-
ful actions in interpersonal disputes, such as in family and
work disputes, where personal confrontations are more com-
mon and higher personal involvement exists.
Interestingly, our results are in line with other studies
showing that vengeance is a conscious act (Gabriel & Mo-
naco, 1994; Skarlicki & Folger, 1997). Respondents who
acted vengefully seemed to be fully aware of what they
were doing. They expressed a high desire for vengeance,
even though they realized the suboptimal alternative was
only of equal or lesser value than the forgone alternative. A
sort of emotional satisfaction seems to be able to take the
place of objective product utility when DCV is high. Fur-
ther investigations are needed to better capture and under-
stand the relief that seems to make revenge "sweet" in mar-
keting as well as other contexts. Sports fans, for example,
brag about rooting against a team that had beaten their fa-
vorite team (Kass, 2000). Similar behaviors have been re-
ported in politics (Abraham & Weiss, 2000).
Future research is needed to examine whether outraged
consumers who have a variety of retaliatory actions would
still choose to act proactively. To get back at perpetrating
firms, outraged consumers resort to a variety of retaliatory
actions such as complaining (arguing), spreading negative
WOM, and discontinuing operations (Richins, 1987; Singh,
1990b). In both studies reported in this research, consumers
were not given the option of bad-mouthing the firm, a com-
mon retaliatory behavior (Richins, 1983). Moreover, partici-
pants in the studies read a scenario describing what hypothet-
ically happened when they called to complain. Hence, they
did not personally experience a "fight" with the firm, another
retaliatory response. It would be interesting to examine
whether consumers would retaliate via choice only when
other retaliatory options are not available. It also would be in-
teresting to investigate whether individual difference~ may
affect individuals' likelihood to act vengefully, especially
given that, by nature, individuals are not equally vengeful
(Stuckless & Goranson, 1992).
In everyday life, people make choices that, quite often,
occur in contexts where negative interactions have taken
place (e.g., after debates with colleagues, family members,
etc.). It appears that a natural emotional response to these
types of commonly experienced life events is the desire for
vengeance. Some of these choices might have long-term
and important impacts on their lives as well as the lives of
others (e.g., electing committee members, making career
decisions, allocating capital investments, etc.). From both a
humanitarian and public policy perspective, no one wants
people to choose divorce mainly to hurt their partners, or to
elect the less qualified president for the sake of getting even
with someone else, or not to buy the best house because
they are upset with the real estate broker. This article has
attempted to enhance our understanding of choices made by
individuals to get even. It is hoped that a better understand-
ing of consumer vengeance as well as its antecedents and
consequences will lessen the likelihood that individuals ex-
periencing vengeful desires will make choices that are not
in their own best interests.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We acknowledge insightful comments from Vikas Mittal and
Madhu Viswanathan on earlier drafts of this article.
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APPENDIX A
Manipulation of DCV: Study 1
Introduction (Common to all three conditions)
A few weeks ago, while watching TV, you saw an ad for a
telecommunications company announcing a special offer for
long distance calls. The ad says that if you dial 10-10-123,
you'll be charged 4 cents per min on all long distance calls
you make during weekends and evenings. The ad also claims
lower than average rates on calls made at all other times and
great international rates. You found the offer attractive. So,
you began to use the service.
Low DCV
You just got your telephone bill. Except for a $10 fee that
you were charged for joining the service, the bill came as
expected. However, because you knew nothing about this
fee, you called the customer service division to complain.
The sales representative explains to you that their ad men-
tions a joining fee, but agrees to waive it for you anyway.
Moderate DCV
You just got your telephone bill. To your surprise, the
amount due is above what you expected, especially given
that you thought you had a good deal with your 10-10-123
long distance carrier. A thorough review of the long-dis-
tance bill reveals that (a) you were charged a $10 fee for
having the service, a fee that you never knew about; (b) an
automatic charge of 20 cents per call was applied to any
call lasting less than 2 min; and (c) you were charged a rate
of 20 centslmin on calls made during the day, a rate equal
to (and not lower than) the average rate charged by other
companies.
You call the customer service department to complain and
ask for account adjustments. The sales representative tells
you that there's nothing he can do about it. You ask for recon-
sideration. After a few calls, you manage to talk to a supervi-
sor who accepts to waive for you the $10 fee and the auto-
matic charge on very short calls. He, however, explains to
you that he cannot do anything about the 20 centslmin rate
charged on calls during the daytime.
High DCV
You just got your telephone bill. To your big surprise, the
amount due is way above what you expected, especially given
that you thought you had a good deal with your 10- 10- 1 23 long
distance carrier. Athoroughreview of the long-distance bill re-
veals that (a) you were charged a$IO fee for having the service,
a fee that you were never told about; (b) an automatic charge of
20cents per call was applied to any call lasting less than 2 min;
and (c) you were charged very high rates exceeding 30
centslmin on calls made during the day, a rate 10 cents above
the average rate charged by other companies. Going over the
bill, you have the feeling that the company did not spare any for reconsideration. You wait for a few days and you call
opportunity to charge you big money. again. This sales representative reacts in a rude manner
You call the customer service department to complain telling you that "you shouldn't expect to make your calls
and ask for account adjustments. The sales representative for free!" Talking to a supervisor does not get you any-
tells you that there's nothing he can do about it. You ask where either.
APPENDIX 5
Alternative Choice Options: Studies 1 and 2
10-10-789
Calls between 7:00 p.m. and midnight 4 centslmin
Calls between midnight and 6:00 a.m. 2.5 centslmin
Calls between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. 20 centslmin
Calls to Canada and Mexico (weekdays) 30 centslmin
Calls to Canada and Mexico (weekends) 10 centslmin
Calls to Eastern Europe 48 centslmn
Calls to Western Europe 35 centslmn
10-10-ABC
Calls between 7:00 p.m. and midnight 4 centslmin
Calls between midnight and 6:00 a.m. 2.75 centslmin
Calls between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. 20 centslmin
Calls to Canada and Mexico (weekdays) 30 centslmin
Calls to Canada and Mexico (weekends) 10 centslmin
Calls to Eastern Europe 52 centslmin
Calls to Western Europe 35 centslmin
Note. 10-10-ABC was identified as the perpetrator's largest rival
APPENDIX C
Desire For Consumer Vengeance Scale
1. I should do something to get even with the [perpetrator] company.
2. It is unimportant for me to get back at [perpetrator] despite their
wrong-doing. (R)
3. I am not just mad with [perpetrator], I need to get even.
4. I have no desire to get revenge from [perpetrator]. (R)
5. I would like to make [perpetrator] regret what they did to me.
Note. 10- 10- 123 was substituted for perpetrator where indicated. R =
reversed item. 1 = low vengence; 5= high vengence.
APPENDIX D
Manipulation of Perceived Justice: Study 2
High InteractionalMigh Distributive
You call the customer service department to complain and
ask for account adjustments. The sales representative tells
you that there's nothing he can do about it. You ask for recon-
sideration. You wait for a few days and you call again. This
sales representative apologizes and reacts in a polite manner
telling you "I'm terribly sorry about the misunderstanding,
but I'm not authorized to make billing changes." You talk to a
supervisor next. The supervisor states that all extra charges
will be deleted, and he addresses you in a polite manner, stat-
ing: "I'm sorry for this miscommunication, and I hope you
understand we want to serve you better in the future." The su-
pervisor explains that you do not need to pay the extra
charges on your current bill and provides you with credit.
The supervisor concludes the call by saying: "I sincerely
apologize for what happened and I am pleased I could help
you."
High Interactional/Low Distributive
You call the customer service department to complain and
ask for account adjustments. The sales representative tells
you that there's nothing he can do about it. You ask for recon-
sideration. You wait for a few days and you call again. This
sales representative apologizes and reacts in a polite manner
telling you 'I'm terribly sorry about the misunderstanding,
but I'm not authorized to make billing changes.' You talk to a
supervisor next. The supervisor states that none of extra
charges will be deleted, but he addresses you in a polite man-
ner, stating: "I'm sorry for this miscommunication, and I
hope you understand we want to serve you better in the fu-
ture." The supervisor explains that you must either pay by the
end of the month or 10- 10- 123 will start charging you inter-
est on the amount due. The supervisor concludes the call by
saying: "I sincerely apologize for what happened and I wish I
could be of more help to you."
Low InteractionalMigh Distributive
You call the customer service department to complain and
ask for account adjustments. The sales representative tells
you that there's nothing he can do about it. You ask for recon-
sideration but the sales representative hangs up on you. You
wait for a few days and you call again. This sales representa-
tive does not apologize either and reacts in a rude manner
telling you that "you shouldn't expect to make your calls for
free, and I'm not authorized to make any billing changes."
You talk to a supervisor next. The supervisor states that all
extra charges will be deleted, but he addresses you in a rude
manner, stating: "This is certainly not a mistake on our part,
and I hope you finally understand you need to be more care-
ful in the future." The supervisor explains that you do not
OUTRAGED CONSUMERS 453
need to pay the extra charges on your current bill and pro-
vides you with credit. The supervisor concludes the call by
saying: "Smart consumers usually check all details of an of-
fer before joining." He hangs up abruptly.
Low Interactional/Low Distributive
You call the customer service department to complain and
ask for account adjustments. The sales representative tells
you that there's nothing he can do about it. You ask for re-
consideration but the sales representative hangs up on you.
You wait for a few days and you call again. This sales rep-
resentative does not apologize either and reacts in a rude
manner telling you that "you shouldn't expect to make your
calls for free, and I'm not authorized to make any billing
changes." You talk to a supervisor next. The supervisor
states that none of the extra charges will be deleted, and he
addresses you in a rude manner, stating: "This is certainly
not a mistake on our part, we do our best to explain all
terms to our customers and I cannot do anything for the
dumbbells that don't get it." The supervisor explains that
you must either pay immediately or 10-10-123 will start
charging you a high interest rate on the amount due. The
supervisor concludes the call by saying: "Smart consumers
usually check all details of an offer before joining." He
hangs up abruptly.

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