The nature of vicarious embarrassment

Alexander H. Ziegler, Alexis Allen, John Peloza, J. Ian Norris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Extant literature suggests that a consumer who purchases a sensitive product will experience embarrassment if others, real or imagined, witness the purchase. However, the parallel embarrassment experienced by observers is largely absent in retailing and service literature. Across four studies, we validate the presence of vicarious embarrassment, as well as the underlying perspective-taking mechanism. The results show that observers experience embarrassment when imagining themselves as the actor. Furthermore, vicarious embarrassment leads to avoidance tendencies and negatively influences word of mouth toward retailers and service providers. Retailers can use interventions to restore both interactional and distributive justice to mitigate these consequences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-364
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Business Research
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Inc.


  • Consumer-to-consumer influence
  • Perspective taking
  • Retailing
  • Vicarious embarrassment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Marketing


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