Studies conducted by a majority of authors provide much evidence that people behave differently when faced with threats, for example, the reason for changes in behavior are emotions associated with evaluating the risks and probabilities of a given phenomenon (Gigerenzer, 2006). As it turns out, people are not so much sensitive to objective probabilistic values as they are to emotions that are the consequence of thinking about a given threat. Moreover, risk assessment of an event is disturbed by the mental availability of an event in the mind of the decision maker (Fischhoff, Gonzalez, Lerner, & Small, 2005). Thus, the decision on whether to undertake a certain action will depend on one’s belief that the event will happen to the person, on the emotions associated with that event, as well as on its mental availability in that person’s mind.
To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study in which an attempt was made to investigate the impact of COVID‐19 on people’s shopping behavior. What makes this research innovative is the use of emotion and risk theories, which allow a better understanding of customer motivation to follow recommendations and take precautions to protect themselves against infection during the reign of the virus. In this part, the authors discuss the theories on which the assumptions were built and which were used to derive research hypotheses, as presented on the model framework (Figure 1).
2.1 Emotional influence on risk perception
People’s reaction to risk involves both cognitive appraisals and emotional reactions (Loewenstein, Weber, Hsee, & Welch, 2001). Although cognitive evaluation demands probability and outcome valences, emotions often emerge without conscious deliberation and people may experience negative feelings such as fear without identification of its target (Loewenstein et al., 2001; Zajonc, 1980).
Researchers have found that specific emotions differently influence appraisal tendencies and risk perceptions (Campos‐Vazquez & Cuilty, 2014; Lerner & Keltner, 2000, 2001; She, Eimontaite, Zhang, & Sun, 2017). Feelings of anger lead to evaluation of negative events as predictable, being under one’s control and to lower risk perception. On the other hand, fear increases perceived risk of outcome; negative events are seen as more unpredictable and under situational control (Lerner & Keltner, 2000). As a consequence, fear enhances risk‐averse behaviors while anger enhances risk‐seeking actions (Lerner & Keltner, 2001). Campos‐Vazquez and Cuilty (2014) demonstrated that sadness leads to risk‐aversion in the domain of gains, while Habib, Cassotti, Moutier, Houdé, and Borst (2015) observed similar effects of sadness in the gain frame as well as opposite effects of anger. Contrary to Lerner and Keltner (2001), Habib et al. (2015) demonstrated that emotional influence on risk tendencies is limited to gain frames. However, Lerner and Keltner investigated dispositional fear and anger, while Habib et al. (2015) examined the impact of emotional context on decisions.
According to Lerner and Keltner (2000, 2001; Lerner & Tiedens, 2006), same‐valence emotions have different effects on risk behaviors because of different feelings of control (individual agency vs. situational agency) and uncertainty (low vs. high), but not due to different levels of arousal. On the other hand, Wierzba et al. (2015) observed a weak correlation between discrete categories of emotions and arousal, nonetheless, fear was found to be most strongly correlated with arousal.
In this study, the authors assume that the emotion of fear is crucial in people’s perception of becoming infected with COVID‐19 and that perceived risk of infection has direct influence on the belief that a person can get infected during shopping. When danger is available in one’s mindset, s/he will perceive such an event as more likely to occur (Fischhoff et al., 2005). Moreover, events associated with strong affective consequences (e.g., danger to life) increase probability neglect, thus, leading to overreaction and insensitivity of the actual likelihood of a threat (Slovic & Peters, 2006). Sunstein (2003) claims that when probability neglect appears, people focus their thinking on negative outcomes (Slovic & Peters, 2006). The authors anticipate that belief about the prevailing epidemic affects people’s emotions because it is a threat to their health or even lives. Therefore, if someone experiences such a threat, everyday life activities (e.g., shopping) that can lead to infection, are perceived as riskier.
H1.Higher perceived risk of contracting a virus affects the perception of possibly contracting the virus being at a store.
2.2 Pleasure, arousal and dominance
Due to numerous reports on the significant impact of emotions in Merhabin and Russel’s approach to shopping behavior (Coker, 2020; Gorn, Tuan Pham, & Yatming Sin, 2001; Mattila & Wirtz, 2008), the authors decided to apply this theory in order to determine the effect of arousal and pleasure on the perceived risk of contracting COVID‐19 at a store. Environmental stimuli shape behavioral responses as they are the consequences of emotional experience regarding pleasure (P), arousal (A) and dominance (D) (Mehrabian & Russell, 1974). Those emotional dimensions elicit approach/avoidance behaviors and influence risk perception. For example, approach behavior involves motivation to enter a shop, interact with salespeople and satisfaction with the environment (Mower, Kim, & Childs, 2012).
According to Mehrabian and Russell (1974), arousal is “an affective property (dimension) ranging from sleep to frantic excitement”. Pleasure refers to valence of the affective state that can be positive or negative (Mehrabian, 1996). This results from the belief that a given event can facilitate or hinder one’s goal achievements (Vieira, 2013). Dominance is a feeling of control over situations and/or other surroundings versus feelings of being controlled/influenced by a situation and/or other (Mehrabian, 1996; Vieira, 2013). Both pleasure and arousal are the subject of research in the area of consumer behavior and decision‐making, while dominance is often ignored (Bakker, van der Voordt, Vink, & de Boon, 2014). For instance, Jahedi, Deck, and Ariely (2017) suggest that aroused participants are more willing to take risks for gains, while Reich and Zautra (2002) concluded that high stress reduces a person’s ability to process information. Kaufman (1999) even claims that extremes in emotional arousal contribute to bounded rationality. Herabadi, Verplanken, and Van Knippenberg (2009) demonstrated that high arousal of positive experiences enhances impulsive buying, which is also confirmed by Liao, To, Wong, Palvia, and Kakhki (2016).
Crucially, arousal is shown to be elicited by fear appeals and to have further consequences on risk perception and behaviors (Lerner & Keltner, 2001; Ruiter, Abraham, & Kok, 2001; Salters‐Pedneault, Gentes, & Roemer, 2007). Fear arousal can be defined as “an unpleasant emotional state triggered by the perception of threatening stimuli” (Ruiter et al., 2001). Such a state influences both emotional reactions and motivation to prevent the possible negative outcome of an event and has been illustrated as having influence on health‐related behaviors (Myrick & Nabi, 2017; Ruiter, Kessels, Peters, & Kok, 2014). As feelings of threat are demonstrated to increase psychological arousal and information processing (LeDoux, 2000, p. 175; Steimer, 2002), the authors assume that conviction of danger related to contracting the virus increases anticipated arousal associated with shopping.
H2.The perception of possibly contracting the virus at a shop has a positive effect on the feeling of arousal accompanying shopping.
Pleasure is found to influence a vast set of behaviors related to consumer decision‐making (Hagtvedt & Patrick, 2008; Kahn & Isen, 1993; Menon & Kahn, 1995; Menon & Kahn, 2002; Schifferstein & Tanudjaja, 2004). Importantly, empirical investigations demonstrate interdependencies between arousal and pleasure. If a person is in a pleasant environment, then stimulation should enhance approach behaviors (Donovan & Rossiter, 1982, p. 39). On the other hand, high arousal in unpleasant conditions should lead to avoidance behaviors. For example, arousal has been shown to increase the impact of pleasure on perceived value and satisfaction (Mattila & Wirtz, 2000). In their other studies, Mattila and Wirtz (2006) observed that an attractive store environment may be seen as unpleasant if it is not consistent with one’s desired level of stimulation. Thus, pleasure can moderate the influence of arousal on in‐store behaviors (Wirtz, Mattila, & Tan, 2007).
As pleasure is described in terms of positive or negative feelings (Bakker et al., 2014; Mehrabian, 1996), it is rational to assume that availability of danger related to an event will decrease pleasure attributed to such a situation. Notably, scholars have demonstrated that people anticipate pleasure associated with different decision outcomes and that pleasure can be a further decision driver (Mellers & McGraw, 2001). Thus, the authors presume that considering shopping during epidemic is strongly associated with displeasure.
H3.The perception of possible contracting the virus at a store has negative influence on the feeling of pleasure associated with shopping.
Furthermore, it is assumed that there is a strong relationship between both anticipated arousal/pleasantness and willingness to take actions that could reduce the probability of getting infected by COVID‐19. The authors of this paper perceive such actions as the possibility of increasing control one could have over the danger of infection. The control over the danger environment is the third component of the PAD emotional model and its importance has been shown with regard to behaviors and health (Bakker et al., 2014; De Lange, Taris, Kompier, Houman, & Bongers, 2003, 2004; Furda et al., 1994; Gaillard, 2003; Johnson & Hall, 1988; Warr, 1994). Although dominance received less attention in consumer research, the authors believe it is rational to include this emotional state in the study. According to Demaree, Everhart, Youngstrom, and Harrison (2005), the dominance emotional state is associated with approach/withdrawal behaviors, thus changes in dominance may elicit different behaviors. Dominance is also the only factor that differentiates fear from anger—two discrete emotions similar in valence and arousal (Mehrabian & O’Reilly, 1980). Moreover, in some studies, dominance is illustrated as having significant influence on in‐store behaviors (Foxall, 1997; Foxall & Yani‐de‐Soriano, 2005; Yani‐de‐Soriano & Foxall, 2006).
An interesting observation from South Korea, reported by Nielson (2020a), indicated that the spread of COVID‐19 is prompting consumers to reduce their visits to large supermarkets, shifting their shopping habits more towards neighborhood stores where they have little interaction with other consumers, whilst only traveling short distances. Another interesting note from this report is that shopping, which is considered a familiar affair in Korea, has now become the responsibility of an adult member of the family to reduce the exposure risk of other family members. Another change in behavior induced by the epidemic is re‐assessment of preferences and importance of food attributes. This was observed in the research by Forster and Tang (2005), who noted a spike in the demand for rice, cooking oil, canned goods, consumable foods, frozen foods, cleaning products and toiletries during the SARS crisis in Hong Kong. This demand for items with long shelf‐life, such as powdered milk products, dried beans, canned meat, chickpeas, rice, tuna, black beans. Biscuit mix, water and pasta remained applicable during the current COVID‐19 epidemic in the U.S., as reported by Nielson (2020b). The same was evident in Canada, where the majority of items in consumer stockpiles consisted of canned, frozen and fresh foods, along with toilet paper and hand sanitizers (Deloitte, 2020). A recent study by Szymkowiak, Kulawik, Jeganathan, and Guzik (2020) adds to the above, produced an eight‐factor scale which can be used to measure in‐store behavior during times of pandemics. The eight factors include contact limitation, food supply security, consumption of familiar products, optimization of shopping time, in‐store social distancing, consumption of products without packaging, number of stores frequented and in‐store behavioral changes undertaken to ensure one’s personal safety. As discussed above, the emotional state rises to the perception of risk, thus the range of activities undertaken by a consumer in order to maintain control and increase personal safety is conditioned by the intensity of emotion, such as arousal and pleasure while shopping. Therefore, the following hypotheses referring to behavioral intentions were adopted in the study:
H4a‐h.In conditions of in store risk infection, along with the increase in arousal, there is an increase in actions undertaken by a consumer to improve control over possible infection: (a) limiting contact with others, (b) limiting the purchase of unpackaged products, (c) maintaining distance in a store, (d) optimization of the time spent in a store, (e) buying familiar products, (f) limiting the number of visited stores, (g) buying products with a long shelf‐life, (h) applying additional personal protection.
H5a‐h.In conditions of in‐store risk of infection, along with the increase in shopping pleasure, there is a decrease in actions undertaken by a consumer to improve control over possible infection: (a) limiting contact with others, (b) limiting the purchase of unpackaged products, (c) maintaining distance in store, (d) optimization of the time spent in a store, (e) buying previously known products, (f) limiting the number of visited stores, (g) buying products with long expiration dates, (h) applying additional personal protection.