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(Not) Near and Dear: COVID-19 concerns increase consumer preference for products that are not “near me”

Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. May 1, 2021

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Abstract

This research examines how COVID-19 influences consumer responses to product offerings identified as being available “near me” versus not “near me.” We theorize that the heightened sense of isolation, or loneliness, brought on by COVID-19 evokes a need for social connection that increases the attractiveness of “not near” offerings, thereby eliminating the preference advantage otherwise expected for “near me” offerings. Providing support for the theorized process, this increased preference for “not near” offerings observed when COVID-19 concerns are (vs. are not) salient is attenuated among individuals who chronically experience loneliness and among those who feel strongly connected to others. These findings offer new insights into consumer decision making during pandemics like COVID-19. The results also carry important policy implications regarding the potentially unintended consequences associated with social distancing measures – namely, making consumers more geographically mobile in shopping for products.

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