The Uncertain Self: How Self-Concept Structure Affects Subscription Choice

Jennifer Savary, Ravi Dhar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Whether it is clothing, meals or an exercise regimen, consumers purchase a wide range of goods on a recurring basis using a subscription model. While past research indicates that people continue to subscribe to these services even when they rarely use them, no work to date has examined how identity considerations affect preferences in this domain. Building on research on signaling and self-concept structure, we propose that quitting an ongoing subscription can threaten the stability of the self-concept by signaling a change in identity. Consumers who are uncertain about their self-concept (i.e., low self-concept clarity) and motivated to maintain a stable self-concept are thus more likely to keep unused subscriptions than those who are more certain. In support of the underlying mechanism, we demonstrate that self-concept clarity affects choices only for identity-relevant subscription choices, and that it affects choices for subscriptions, but not one-shot product choices that are a weaker signal of identity. Finally, because signing up for a new subscription also signals an identity change that can threaten the stability of the self, consumers with low self-concept clarity are also less likely to subscribe to a new service compared to those with more certain self-concepts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)887-903
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • identity signaling
  • retention choice
  • self-concept clarity
  • self-concept structure
  • self-signaling
  • subscription services

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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