Theory of Consumption Values

The theory of consumption values focuses on explaining why we buy what we buy (Sheth et al., 1991). In other words, it aims to understand why consumers make the choices they make regarding products and brands. The practical concept is limited to individual, systematic, and voluntary decision-making (Tanrikulu, 2021). In order to develop the idea of consumption values, Sheth et al. (1991) put forth three postulates with the intention of framing the theory. The postulates affirm that:

  1. Consumer choice is a function of multiple consumption values.
  2. The consumption values make differential contributions in any given choice situation.
  3. The consumption values are independent.

According to the theory of consumption values, there are five consumption values influencing consumer choice behavior. These values are based on multiple research models in various disciplines such as Economics, Marketing, Psychology, and many more. Any or all of them can influence a choice made by a consumer (Sheth et al., 1991). The five consumption values are:

  • Functional value: Defined as the utility acquired from a product or person’s capacity for performance through elements such as functional, utilitarian, or physical attributes. It is thought to be the main driver of consumer decision-making. It may be derived from price, reliability, durability, and other factors (Sheth et al., 1991). An example of functional value put in practice could be if an automobile were being sold at an affordable price but with good quality, low maintenance costs, and low danger risk; it would attract consumers who would then hold a better attitude towards the car since all these elements would improve its functional value (Altaf et al., 2017).
  • Social value: Defined as the utility acquired from one’s association with specific social groups (whether it be demographic, socioeconomic, or cultural-ethnic), influenced by stereotypes. It is mainly associated with purchasing decisions concerning highly visible products (Sheth et al., 1991). An example of social value put into practice could be that adopting sustainable consumption behavior helps people keep a clean and aesthetically pleasing environment, preserving their home and, thus, positively affecting social value (Lee et al., 2015).
  • Emotional value: Defined as the utility acquired from the capacity to provoke and evoke feelings, it is often linked with aesthetic alternatives such as religion or social causes. Nonetheless, it can also be derived from products that are significant to people (Sheth et al., 1991). An example of emotional value put into practice could be that, according to data acquired by the Apple App Store in 2013, the type of mobile application downloaded the most is “games”. This is most likely because users feel that their emotional needs are met while using these apps through the pleasure or fun they experience, meaning that they derive emotional value from them (Wang et al., 2013).
  • Epistemic value: Defined as the utility acquired from the capacity to inspire curiosity, novelty, and knowledge, it can be found through new experiences or a change of pace in mundane daily routines (Sheth et al., 1991). An example of epistemic value put in practice could be fulfilling customers’ need for knowledge and curiosity when it comes to environmentally friendly products because they put forth novelty as well as innovative concepts, which grabs the attention of consumers (Rizkalla & Setiadi, 2020; Ali et al., 2019).
  • Conditional value: Defined as the utility acquired from circumstances facing the choice maker, it often depends on the situation. We associate certain products, services, or material items with specific settings (Sheth et al., 1991). An example of conditional value put in practice could be that consumers started using food delivery apps more and more during the COVID-19 pandemic due to restrictions on everyday life being implemented, meaning that conditional value was extracted from this service (Chakraborty et al., 2022).

The consumption values make differential contributions in any given choice situation. Sheth et al. (1991) explain that in the same choice contexts, different consumers might decide to make a purchase attributed to the same product entity based on completely different (and sometimes multiple) consumption values. Finally, independence among values signifies that the five consumption values are independent of one another. Usually, consumers make trade-offs on values based on what is most important to them in given contexts since maximizing all five values at once is not practical (Sheth et al., 1991).

Much marketing research has been conducted using the theory of consumption values as a theoretical framework, especially regarding environmentally friendly products. For instance, Lee et al. (2015) explain that consumption values, which impact an individual’s decision to live in a particular residential suburb, indirectly influence environmental attitudes and consumption behavior through the positive influence of place identity. Gonçalves et al., (2015) clarify that regarding green buying behavior, the functional value almost always plays an important part in consumers’ choice of purchase, but it is not sufficient by itself. Lin & Huang (2011) demonstrate how epistemic value is a main influencing factor on consumer choice behavior regarding green products.

In conclusion, the theory of consumption values is very important to understanding some driving factors of consumer behavior and purchasing decisions. It has been used in many studies that have proven useful for marketing strategy recommendations to various employment sectors.


Ali, S., Danish, M., Khuwaja, F. M., Sajjad, M. S., & Zahid, H. (2019). The intention to adopt green IT products in Pakistan: Driven by the modified theory of consumption values. Environments6(5), 53.

Altaf, S. N., Perumal, S., & Hussin, Z. (2017). Consumption values and consumer attitude towards automobile purchase. Paradigms11(1), 1.

Chakraborty, D., Kayal, G., Mehta, P., Nunkoo, R., & Rana, N. P. (2022). Consumers’ usage of food delivery app: A theory of consumption values. Journal of Hospitality Marketing & Management31(5), 601-619.

Gonçalves, H. M., Lourenço, T. F., & Silva, G. M. (2016). Green buying behavior and the theory of consumption values: A fuzzy-set approach. Journal of Business Research, 69(4), 1484-1491.

Lee, C. K., Levy, D. S., & Yap, C. S. F. (2015). How does the theory of consumption values contribute to place identity and sustainable consumption?. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 39(6), 597-607.

Rizkalla, N., & Setiadi, D. D. (2020). Appraising the influence of theory of consumption values on environmentally-friendly product purchase intention in Indonesia. Management & Marketing Journal18(1).

Sheth, J. N., Newman, B. I., & Gross, B. L. (1991). Why we buy what we buy: A theory of consumption values. Journal of Business Research, 22(2), 159-170.

Tanrikulu, C. (2021). Theory of consumption values in consumer behaviour research: A review and future research agenda. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 45(6), 1176-1197.

Wang, H. Y., Liao, C., & Yang, L. H. (2013). What affects mobile application use? The roles of consumption values. International Journal of Marketing Studies5(2), 11.