When does a luxury item—such as a fur coat or designer briefcase— hold the most allure for shoppers? Natalie Carroll is chasing answers to that question by recreating a landmark study of consumer behavior.
At the Carson College’s Center for Behavioral Business Research (CBBR), 150 people have taken a four-minute survey designed by Carroll, a senior majoring in finance and marketing. She was hoping to replicate the findings of the original 2008 study, which indicated luxury goods are most appealing when people feel less powerful than their peers.
“Our feelings affect how we consume things,” Carroll says. “When people are in low power situations, they’re more drawn to high-status products.”
For Carroll, the chance to learn and use academic research methods as an undergraduate comes through a new research practicum. In a milestone achievement, she and her classmates were the first to earn the college’s Certificate in Academic Achievement in Behavioral Business Research for completing the class.
The certificate shows future employers that students are familiar with primary research and conducting scientific studies, says Andrew Perkins, associate professor of marketing and CBBR director. Those are high-demand skills that will help set the college’s graduates apart, he says.
“Those graduates can listen to a presentation on marketing research and critically assess what it means,” Perkins says. “Often, people sitting in decision-making meetings don’t have the knowledge to evaluate the data they’re getting.”
“I love the hands-on aspect of research—getting to apply and test your knowledge,” says Carroll, who graduated in May. “It broadens your understanding so much more than what you’d learn in a lecture.”
“These Skills are so Expandable”
Mycah Harrold, a Ph.D. candidate in marketing, is teaching the research practicum. As she instructs students on how to develop a hypothesis, create a survey, and collect and analyze data, she knows she could be influencing their career trajectory.
“To know that you want to devote your career to research, you have to be able to get your hands dirty,” Harrold says. “We have undergrads who wanted to do research, but there hasn’t been an outlet.”
Even if these students don’t get a Ph.D. or work in academia, “these skills are so expandable,” Harrold says. “There’s math, sophisticated statistical work, creative thinking, lots of writing, planning, and time management.”
Carroll’s survey findings didn’t match the results of the original consumer behavior study, which initially disappointed her.
“Now, it’s actually a little exciting,” she says. “More work is needed to understand compensatory consumption, a subject I find very intriguing. If I pursue graduate school at some point, I’d definitely take it on as a research project.”
Meanwhile, Carroll has accepted a job in Seattle at Protiviti, a global business consulting firm, where she anticipates using her research skills.
“This helped prepare me for my first position,” she says. “In a consulting role, you’re researching the company, analyzing data to spot errors and look for business opportunities.”