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Vivian (Jieru) Xie Wins the ACR-Sheth Award

The Marketing Department would like to congratulate Pamplin doctoral candidate, Vivian (Jieru) Xie, on winning the very prestigious ACR-Sheth Award for her dissertation in the area of public purpose! Winning this competition is the highest honor that a doctoral student can receive from ACR (Association for Consumer Research), one of Marketing’s premier conferences. 

Under the mentorship of Dr. Rajesh Bagchi, Vivian examined the effect of ownership on consumers’ disposition decisions, specifically in regards to consumers’ food wastage and recycling behaviors. Read on to learn more about this incredible graduate student and her research.

About Vivian

Where did you complete your undergrad studies and what was your major? 

Prior to joining the doctoral program at Virginia Tech, I completed two degrees, a B.A. and an M.S. in Marketing, both from the Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. 

What degree are you working towards?

I am working towards my Doctorate in Marketing Department. I hope to graduate next year and secure a faculty position. 

What classes do you teach at Virginia Tech and how do you want your students to be impacted by your classes?

I teach Consumer Behavior (MKTG4204) and Marketing Communications (MKTG4304). 

I want my students to understand the key role that Marketing plays in managerial decision-making. There are two facets to making good decisions: one, understanding how your consumers make decisions, and, two, how marketers should communicate with their consumers. In my first class on Consumer Behavior, I teach students how consumers react to different pieces of information, how they process information, and how they make consumption decisions. We also discuss the role of ambient factors and pricing. In my course on Marketing Communications, I discuss how Marketers can communicate more effectively with their consumers via the different channels at their disposal.    

What are you involved in at VT and/or what would you like to be involved in?

I work 20 hours as a graduate student. I have mentored several undergraduate students and taught them how research in Marketing is done. I have also served as the lab manager here. I also engage with the student community at VT. 

Vivian’s Research

What inspired your dissertation’s focus on consumers’ food wastage and recycling behaviors?

In my first consumer behavior class, I queried students about what they thought consumer behavior was about. While most mentioned that the goal of consumer behavior was to study consumers’ purchase behaviors and consumption decisions, none included post-purchase behavior. Unfortunately, these beliefs are quite common, and are not just held by my students. In fact, in the past, even researchers thought of consumer research as being synonymous with buyer behavior. However, now researchers recognize that consumer behavior is a dynamic ongoing process, that does not just start and end with product purchase.

However, while much is known about how consumers make purchase decisions, much less is known about post-purchase disposal decisions. While we are all grateful for the many innovations that the industrial age followed by the digital age has brought us, it has also unfortunately increased wastefulness. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 267.8 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) were generated in 2017, compared to only 88.1 in 1960 (EPA 2017). Trashing products mean that not only did we not utilize the full potential of the raw material, but that we will be imposing further stress on our landfills and incineration facilities. Thus, I believe it is of critical importance to understand how consumers can be encouraged to reduce waste. I discussed these ideas with my advisor, Prof. Rajesh Bagchi, who also agreed with me, and this is what got me started on understanding why consumers waste food and how I can help them decrease waste and improve recycling behaviors. 

What are the primary conclusions you drew from your research and what are their implications for society?

Not all products are purchased and consumed within a short time window—people often purchase food in advance for future consumption. In my food wastage project, we are investigating how length of ownership influences consumers’ waste behaviors. We find that consumers use time of ownership to make inferences about freshness of food products (even when manufacturing/expiration dates are available). Thus, the same unopened food product is judged as being less fresh when consumers own this product for a longer duration relative to when it is at the grocery store (e.g., on the shelf) for the same duration. A consequence of this behavior is that they are more likely to waste food that they have owned longer. 

Food waste is amongst the biggest global challenges facing us. Almost one-third of the food produced for human consumption is either lost or wasted globally. What is more troubling is that about two-thirds of this wastage is preventable. Thus, it is of paramount importance to identify factors that reduce food waste and thus aid in protecting the environment. Our findings have important managerial and public policy implications. The pandemic has increased how much consumers buy and store for later usage, which could lead to increased duration of ownership and therefore wastage. It may therefore be important to store food in an orderly manner so as to facilitate consumption of food that is owned for a longer duration first. Furthermore, as we show, reorganizing storage location of food can lower food waste behavior. This is because merely changing location of stored food lowers perceived duration-of-ownership. This easily implementable strategy can lower waste significantly.  

In ongoing studies I am also studying how consumers can be encouraged to recycle more. I will be happy to discuss my findings after I conclude my research. 

Do you feel that your research was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? Why or why not?

We believe the current COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated this behavior, as people are trying to limit visits to the grocery store and are buying in bulk. It is perhaps critical that this tendency to purchase larger quantities of food for the uncertain future does not lead to further wastage.

How has your life and perspective changed as a result of your dissertation?

I love food and I love cooking. I used to buy a lot of things that I thought I might need someday in the future. However, I did not use up all the food. Most of this wastage is preventable. Now that I already know that longer duration of ownership lowers evaluations of food products, and consequently increases food wastage, I plan my grocery trips carefully. I focus on what I actually need in the immediate future instead of purchasing large quantities of goods just because they are on sale. I think about disposal and wastage when I buy and I believe this shopping approach is more responsible and better for the environment.