Do you keep secrets from your loved ones, family, or friends?
It turns out that many people do. Whether ordering something online and hiding the package when it arrives, hiring a cleaning service and not telling your roommate, or eating a pizza instead of dieting, we often have secret purchases that we just prefer not to divulge.
UConn marketing professor Danielle Brick is investigating this behavior and, discovering the little “errors of omissions” that go on in many households.
“I think what makes this research important, and fun, is how relatable it is,’’ says Brick, a new member of the UConn School of Business faculty.
Her research, titled “Secret Consumer Behaviors in Close Relationships,” has just been published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
She and her colleagues found that this clandestine behavior not only impacts relationships in an unexpected and significant way, but also has considerable marketing implications.
Consumer Secrets Are the Norm
Although close relationships with loved ones and roommates are often characterized by openness and disclosure, that isn’t always the case.
“In our study, we find that 90% of people have recently kept everyday consumer behaviors a secret from a close friend or spouse,’’ Brick says. “What’s interesting is that even though most of these secret acts are quite ordinary, they can still impact the relationship.’’
Brick, the lead researcher, conducted five studies with her co-authors, Kelley Gullo Wight from Indiana University and Gavan Fitzsimons from Duke University.
They discovered that these small omissions of information result in guilt among the secret keepers, and drive them to invest more money or time in their relationship. Ultimately this results in a positive outcome for the romance or friendship.
“Who knew that a secret chocolate stash could be good for your relationship?,” Brick says.
Their research sheds light on an understudied area of consumer behavior. To date, researchers have mostly focused on the impact of significant secrets, such as hiding a trauma or an extramarital affair, which generally have a negative impact on relationship dynamics.
Even though the small-scale secrets are minor transgressions, they seem to induce fears of diminishing a relevant bond, and motivate people to behave in a pro-social way in order to repair the potential damage, Brick says.
Brick and her colleagues also have advice for marketers. Given the nature of secrecy, it is likely that companies are unaware of ways in which consumers are using their products on the sly. It is something they could capitalize on in their promotions, she says.
“Marketers should ask their consumers about when, and from whom, they use their products in secret, so they can better support the secret usage,’’ she says.