Operant learning comes under the Behaviourist Perspective, which is associated with John Watson (1913). Operant learning is the process by which a behaviour becomes associated with its consequences (Kosslyn, 2007). The term consumer behaviour is the behaviour that consumers display in searching for, purchasing, evaluating, and disposing of products and services that they expect will satisfy their needs (Schiffman, 2008).
B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) fully developed the concept of operant conditioning and how this could explain much of our daily behaviour. Operant conditioning involves an association between a stimulus, the response to the stimulus (a behaviour), and its consequence. In many marketing situations, the behaviour is an action, such as the purchase of a product or shopping at a particular store, and the consequence is a reward in the form of some sort of sales promotion (e.g. a premium discount) that then increases the likelihood that the consumer will repeat the original behaviour. A positive experience with a product (e.g. satisfaction) can also be seen as a reinforcer, as shown in figure 1.
In classical conditioning, the association is between a neutral stimulus (something with no meaning to a consumer e.g. an unfamiliar or low-involvement product) and its association with a meaningful object, and through this association consumers can learn to respond to the neutral object in the same way that they respond to the meaningful object. In marketing, the meaningful conditioned stimulus is something that will cause a predictable and positive response in consumers. For example, with the use of an unconditioned stimulus (e.g. humour) with a neutral stimulus (e.g. a product) through repeated pairing (usually advertising), the consumer ”learns” to respond to the neutral stimulus in the same way that they responded to the unconditioned stimulus, even in the absence of the unconditioned stimulus (Pavlov, 1927). While classical conditioning is useful for explaining how consumers learn simple behaviours, instrumental (operant) conditioning is useful in explaining more complex goal-directed behaviours (Schiffman et al. 2008-a, p. 193).
Sampling is akin to what is known as "shaping" in learning theory, reinforcing behaviours that closely approximate the desired behaviour. Sampling tends to bring about conditioning of the desired response more effectively and efficiently. From an operant conditioning perspective, sampling should increase the probability of purchase. (Lammers, 1991). For example, when a new perfume is launched, magazines will often have free samples and coupons inside them. Then, perhaps, consumers are given just a coupon and eventually no coupon, so the reinforcement has been faded out. Testers are there to get the consumer to try out the product and if they like it, in theory, they will buy the perfume. However, the problem with this theory is that with a lot of sales promotion efforts, the public get too used to the...