“Inaction inertia”, the phenomenon that a person continues forgoing a positive but less attractive opportunity after missing an initial attractive one, has attracted much attention from scholars from various disciplines. A detailed review of the literature reveals that much of the research on inertia effect has focused on the characteristics of opportunities and the relationships among different opportunities. However, few studies have investigated this phenomenon from the characteristics of decision-makers perspective. In line with this view, this paper aims to examine how self-regulatory modes (i.e., locomotion and assessment) of decision-makers influence the “inaction inertia” effect in a consumption context. We propose that consumers with high locomotion mode are more likely to take the second opportunity than consumers with high assessment mode after missing a more attractive opportunity. This effect can be explained by the perception of anticipated regret, which is defined as the tradeoff between the anticipated inaction regret and the anticipated action regret, of consumers. In addition, we propose that the effect is moderated by product types provided in the second opportunity. If the product in the second opportunity is an alternative product that is similar to but somewhat different from that in the first opportunity, the effects of self-regulatory on the likelihood of action will be attenuated.
We conducted three experiments to test the proposed hypotheses. Eighty-seven undergraduate students participated in Study 1 to examine the effect of regulatory mode on the likelihood of taking the second opportunity. In this study, participants read a scenario about missing an opportunity to buy an LED lamp and facing a second less attractive opportunity. We measured participants’ regulatory mode and the likelihood of action, and used linear regression model and ANOVA to analyze the results. Study 2 used a 2 (regulatory mode: locomotion vs. assessment) by 2 (attractiveness difference: large vs. small) between-subjects experimental design with 115 participants to examine how the regulatory mode influenced participants’ likelihood to taking the second opportunity and to investigate the role of anticipated regret in inaction inertia effect. We manipulated participants’ regulatory mode and the attractiveness between the first and the second opportunity. We then used ANOVA to analyze the results and used PROCESS (Hayes, 2013) to test the mediation effect of anticipated regret. To examine how the product type in the second opportunity influences the effect of regulatory mode on the likelihood of action in the second opportunity, a 2 (regulatory mode: locomotion vs. assessment) × 2 (product type: same product vs. alternative product) between-subjects design was adopted. A total of 114 undergraduate students participated in Study 3. We used the same statistical methods as those in Study 2 to test our hypotheses.
The results of Study 1 demonstrated that compared with participants with high assessment mode, participants with high locomotion mode were more likely to take action when encountering the second opportunity. The results of Study 2 showed that when the attractiveness difference between the first and the second opportunity was relative large, participants with high locomotion mode expressed higher likelihood of action than those with high assessment mode, while participants showed no difference in the likelihood of action when the attractiveness difference between two opportunities was relative small. Furthermore, the tradeoff between anticipated inaction regret and anticipated action regret mediated the effect of regulatory mode on likelihood of action. The results in Study 3 indicated that when using the same product in the second opportunity as in the first opportunity, participants with high locomotion mode showed higher likelihood of action than those with high assessment mode. However, when providing the alternative product in the second opportunity, the difference of the likelihood of action between participants with different regulatory mode was attenuated.
The findings of this paper enhance our understanding of inaction inertia effect by investigating how regulatory mode influences the likelihood of action. We found that the tradeoff between the anticipated inaction regret and the anticipated action regret mediates the effects of regulatory mode on the likelihood of action. Moreover, the paper contributes to the regulatory mode theory by extending it to a new consumption context. Finally, the paper provides several managerial implications as well. It provides a new way for marketers to target consumers by identifying their regulatory mode and further to run marketing campaigns based on consumers’ different level of anticipated regrets. In addition, marketers can use an alternative product in the second opportunity that is similar to but somewhat different from that in the missing opportunity to effectively attenuate the inaction inertia for consumers with high assessment mode.