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University of Michigan School of Information


Virtual dissertation defense: Carol Moser

03/17/2020 10:00 a.m. - Noon
via BlueJeans video conferencing

Impulse Buying: Designing for Self-Control with E-commerce

Please follow this BlueJeans link at the stated time of the event:


Impulse buying is a common but potentially problematic behavior that can leave consumers with financial hardship and feelings of regret. The goal of this dissertation is to understand how to support consumers who wish to gain greater control of their online impulse buying. This research first investigates how current e-commerce stores encourage impulsive spending by conducting a content analysis of 200 top-earning shopping websites (Study 1). We demonstrate that the use of impulse-driving features is common and we catalog the different types of features that are commonly used. Second, we take a user-centered approach by directly asking consumers what type of support they would like in tackling online impulse buying (Study 2). A survey of 151 frequent online impulse buyers reveals that consumers want tools that, for example, make costs more salient, encourage reflection, enforce spending limits, increase checkout effort, and postpone purchases. Consumers were not interested in social accountability tools or tools utilizing regret or guilt.

Relying on these insights, we designed and tested postponement, reflection, and distraction interventions to encourage self-control with e-commerce (Studies 3-5). Through an online experiment, we show that a 25-hour delay is effective at lowering consumer’s felt urge to buy impulsively and also at lowering purchase intent (Study 3). Conversely, an in-lab experiment testing a 10-minute delay on Amazon purchases failed to show a statistically significant decline in the number of impulse products purchased or dollars spent impulsively (Study 4). We highlight that 100% of participants continued to shop during their 10-minute delay to help explain the lack of an effect. Finally, through an online experiment, we show that prompting consumers to spend approximately 3 ½ minutes listing reasons for and against buying a product or engaging in a distracting task reduces the felt urge to buy impulsively and purchase intent. We conclude by asserting that postponement is an effective self-control strategy if (a) the delay is long enough to allow for the natural distractions of life to cool the impulse to buy or (b) is short but focused on either reflecting on the product or focused on something distracting, but not focused on browsing for additional impulse purchases. Taken together, this dissertation takes a consumer advocacy perspective by shedding light on potentially problematic design practices, by identifying opportunities for corporations to engage in more transparent design, and by providing design recommendations for technologies that help consumers achieve greater self-control with e-commerce.

Carol Moser


Carol Moser is a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan School of Information. Her research interests are in the fields of Human-Computer Interaction, Consumer Behavior and Social Computing. She is interested in how web design and other sociotechnical factors influence how consumers behave. She studies e‑commerce, decision-making, behavior change and online consumer communities. She investigates these topics using quantitative and qualitative methods including experiments, surveys, and interviews.



This defense will be held virtually for the public to attend. Paul Resnick and Sarita Yardi Schoenebeck, serving as committee chairs, will preside over the oral defense.