Consumer Mental Accounts and Implications to Selling Base Products and Add-Ons

Publication Date



Firms in a variety of industries offer add-on products to consumers who have previously purchased a base product. We posit that consumers, in making their decisions as to whether to purchase add-ons that complement the base products, find a greater need for the value offered by the add-ons when the “unrecovered” value (i.e., price paid minus the benefits obtained so far) associated with the base products is higher. We conduct experiments that test the proposed hypothesis and examine the strategic implications of such consumer decision making to a firm that sells base product add-on pairs. Consistent with our hypothesis, the experiments show that a consumer's unrecovered value associated with the base product is positively correlated to his likelihood of purchasing the add-on. Formal modeling of this bias shows that firms may find penetration pricing strategies (such as loss leader pricing) suboptimal. Furthermore, the identified bias leads the firm to spend more resources toward enhancing both the base product and the add-on quality, especially so when the add-on will be offered before the consumer has a chance to extensively use the base product. Finally, the effect of competition in the base product market is also considered.

Document Type



consumer behavior, pricing, behavioral decision theory, lab experiments, mental accounting


Business Administration, Management, and Operations


SMU Cox: IT & Operations Management (Topic)