Speed Reads

human nature?

You probably treat workers at Walmart worse than ones at Saks

'Tis the season for mass consumption — and it might not always be so jolly.

A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that consumers' behavior toward service workers may be affected by their shopping goals. Johannes Boegershausen, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business and co-author of the study, explained that "when shoppers focus only on paying the lowest price, they become less attuned to understanding the human needs of others — or even recognizing them."

The UBC researchers conducted several experiments that informed their conclusions. In one test, online shoppers chatted with customer service representatives who were directed by the researchers to be rude. The shoppers were then given the option to report the rude employees, and thrifty customers did so 18 percent more often than neutral consumers.

Researchers also used the airline companies Ryanair and Lufthansa to test how a company's reputation affects consumer attitudes towards employees. Ryanair is a frequently maligned, low-cost carrier, while Lufthansa is a respected airline that enjoys good standing with its customers. The researchers found that online reviews of Ryanair contained less "humanizing trait words" than reviews of Lufthansa, and when consumers were asked to react to photos of Lufthansa, Ryanair, and "neutral" airline employees, they "ascribed lower capabilities for experiencing emotions and feelings to the Ryanair flight attendant."

The study's authors say that reputations of low-cost companies may create something of a feedback loop, in which consumers treat employees at lower-end companies with less humanity, which in turn makes those same employees more likely to treat other customers poorly — something to keep in mind, whether you're doing last-minute holiday shopping at Walmart or Saks Fifth Avenue. Read more about the study at UBC News.