As technology has simplified meeting basic needs, humans have cultivated increasingly psychological avenues for occupying their consumption energies, moving from consuming food to consuming concepts; we propose that consideration of such “conceptual consumption” is essential for understanding human consumption. We first review how four classes of conceptual consumption—consuming expectancies, goals, fluency, and regulatory fit—impact physical consumption. Next, we benchmark the power of conceptual consumption against physical consumption, reviewing research in which people forgo positive physical consumption—and even choose negative physical consumption–in order to engage in conceptual consumption. Finally, we outline how conceptual consumption informs research examining both preference formation and virtual consumption, and how it may be used to augment efforts to enhance consumer welfare.
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