The present research applies operant conditioning theory to the question of what products and services consumers will shop for and buy online. Operant conditioning theory explains differences between products that are used to alleviate uncomfortable experiences (negative reinforcement) and those providing enjoyable experiences (positive reinforcement). The preliminary results described in this study confirmed the importance of operant conditioning as a factor in the behavior of online shoppers. For example, when asked to provide an open-ended list of products that they had shopped for, our respondents mentioned products that produce positive reinforcement 476 times versus only 4 mentions for those that create negative reinforcement. Furthermore, for a list of seventeen common product categories, the results showed that respondents were not only less likely to shop for negative reinforcement products but also even less likely to purchase negative products online than positive products. The results of this exploratory study lay the groundwork for future research by introducing negative and positive reinforcement as a predictor of Internet shopping behavior.
Department, Program, or Center
Journal of Electronic Commerce in Organizations, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 42-54, 2003
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