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How to deal with irrational consumption behavior of residents under COVID-19?


COVID-19, as a public health emergency, poses a major challenge to the economic and social development of numerous countries, impacting not only the psychology and behavior of residents at the individual level, but also the stability of society at the societal level, typified by the increased difficulty of smooth economic operation due to residents’ irrational consumption behavior. In the present study, we have drawn on the psychological stimuli-organism-response (SOR) and mediating effect theories to explore the causes of irrational consumption behavior. Finally, based on the actual situation in the questionnaire survey, we propose the system for assessing the effectiveness of the government’s response to the epidemic and measures under the influence of irrational consumption. In the results of our study, we found that the positive and negative irrational consumption adjustment coefficients of the government under the influence of its inherent image were 6.72% and 17.64%, respectively; the government intervention indices under the positive and negative perceptions output according to QFD theory were 0.14 and 0.02, respectively; and the positive and negative measure effectiveness indices of the government response programs were 2.28 and 2.10, respectively. Thus, through our study, we concluded that residents’ positive perception of government image would reduce the occurrence of irrational consumption behavior, while the improvement of irrational consumption behavior by perfect psychological services under residents’ negative perception of government image is more obvious. On the basis of summarizing the experience of this COVID-19, this study can serve the prediction and regulation of residents’ irrational consumption behavior under the government response to public health emergencies, and also enrich the research literature on irrational consumption behavior in related consumption behavior studies, and more importantly, provide theoretical and empirical support for similar academic cases in the international community.


Nowadays, public health emergencies with external threats tend to trigger psychological panic and a series of corresponding consumption behaviors among residents. For example, the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 triggered psychological panic among residents, which led to behaviors such as blind consumption, herd consumption, and retaliatory consumption. It can be seen that a moderate reaction helps residents to protect themselves in the epidemic, but an overreaction leads to a series of irrational consumption behaviors to some extent. Irrational consumption behaviors were particularly evident during COVID-19, when residents bought and hoarded medical supplies and household goods in large quantities, resulting in a shortage of corresponding goods and a failure of market regulation mechanisms. On the one hand, the irrational consumption behavior made it more difficult to prevent and control the epidemic due to the lack of material security at the front line of the epidemic; on the other hand, it led to excessive hoarding and waste of resources, giving rise to the phenomenon of malicious hoarding and affecting economic stability.

In January 2011, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China revised the Emergency Regulations on Public Health Emergencies and made recommendations on national policies to guide consumer behavior during public health emergencies, emphasizing the need to ensure the supply of basic goods in response to changes in consumer demand during emergencies. In April 2022, the General Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China issued the latest COVID-19 Strategic Prevention, Preparedness and Response Plan, which provides strategic guidance for regions to respond to public health emergencies and reduce the impact of public health emergencies on regional economic development through scientific prevention and control measures. In May 2022, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Finance of the People’s Republic of China issued the “Coordinated Prevention and Control of the New Coronary Pneumonia Epidemic and “Food Basket” Product Supply and Price Stabilization The “Working Guide on the Supply Side” aims to improve the pessimistic expectation of residents in the consumer market under public health events, and to build up the confidence of residents and reduce irrational consumption behavior by means of supply and price stability. It can be seen that the Chinese government and even the international community have paid great attention to the irrational consumption behavior brought about by COVID-19 and introduced a series of relevant policies and programs. Therefore, the study of irrational consumption behavior under COVID-19 has become a very urgent and practical contribution to the regulation of social irrational consumption phenomenon and the response to public health emergencies.

In order to better study the response to the irrational consumption behavior of residents under COVID-19, we compiled relevant cases and data from two perspectives: direct and indirect. Among them, the direct reflection perspective is reflected in the irrational consumption behavior of residents during the occurrence of COVID-19 and the changes of consumption psychology after the occurrence, according to the irrational consumption behavior of residents during the occurrence of COVID-19, it is mainly reflected in herding consumption behavior, retaliatory consumption behavior and blind consumption behavior, according to the Chinese financial institution Huaxing Capital’s “Survey on Post-Epidemic Retaliatory According to the “Survey Report on Post-Epidemic Retaliatory Consumption (2020)” by Chinese financial institution China Renaissance, about 55% of the 1,000 respondents expected retaliatory consumption in the short term after the end of the epidemic, and the purpose of consumption was mainly to meet social needs. Based on the changes in residents’ consumption psychology after the occurrence of COVID-19, what can be seen is that the epidemic had a large impact on residents’ consumption confidence, according to the statistics of the National Bureau of Statistics of China on the Consumer Expectation Index, Consumer Satisfaction Index, and Consumer Confidence Index in February 2021, as reflected in Fig. 1 below, which shows the trend changes in the Consumer Confidence Index before and after the epidemic. In the first half of 2020, the consumer confidence index fell by 10.92%, with a rapid decline and reached a minimum value of 112.6 in June 2020, after the epidemic was relatively effectively controlled, the consumer confidence index showed a gradual recovery.


Trends of various indices of consumers before and after the outbreak.

Trends of various indices of consumers before and after the outbreak.

The indirect reflection perspective is mainly reflected in the overall fluctuation of the social consumption surface and the specific fluctuation of each consumption type. In terms of the overall fluctuation of the social consumption surface, according to the data of the National Bureau of Statistics of China, in 2019, the total retail sales of social consumer goods will be 40,801.72 billion yuan, a nominal increase of 9.79% over the previous year; in 2020, the total retail sales of social consumer goods will be 3,919.86 billion yuan, a decrease of 3.93% over the previous year; in 2021, the total retail sales of social consumer goods will be 440,823.2 billion yuan, a an increase of 12.46% over the previous year. The profound impact of public health emergencies on the consumer goods sector, exemplified by COVID-19, can be seen. In terms of the specific fluctuations of each consumption type, according to the statistics of the National Bureau of Statistics of China for 2019 to 2020, from the category classification, as shown in Fig. 2 below, it can be seen that the growth of the consumer price index of food and oil, daily necessities and Chinese medicine products in the essential consumer goods category remained strong, mainly due to the rise in demand for stocking up on essential goods caused by the closure of the epidemic. In the optional consumer goods category, the consumer price indices of gold, silver and jewelry, clothing, shoes and hats, and textiles have all declined to some extent.

Fig. 2

Consumer price index trends by category.

Consumer price index trends by category.

Based on the above background description, we sort out the following three main contributions of this paper: (1) Theoretically, we innovatively apply QFD to the research problem of irrational consumption behavior, which makes the structure and logic of the paper clear and enriches the application of QFD in marketing, providing theoretical and empirical support for similar academic cases in the international community. (2) In terms of methodology, it draws on the psychological SOR and mediating effect theories in an interdisciplinary manner to explore the causes of irrational consumption behavior under COVID-19. (3) Practically, a theoretical basis for the government to respond to the prediction and regulation of residents’ irrational consumption behavior under COVID-19 is proposed to further improve the government’s risk response capability and boost residents’ consumption confidence.

The rest of this paper is organized as follows: Part 2 is a literature review, in which we will sort out four levels of research on consumption behavior, irrational consumption behavior, consumption behavior under the epidemic, and research on the application of relevant models and mediating effects analysis methods; Part 3 is the underlying theory, in which we will introduce the quality function configuration theory, questionnaire survey method, and the metrics and indicators selection of variables; Part 4 we propose In Section 4, we present the theoretical derivations and research hypotheses; in Section 5, we present the research results and robustness tests; in Section 6, we conduct a methodological discussion and provide conclusions for the quantitative experimental analysis study.

2Literature review

In our study, we focus on the problem of irrational consumption behavior under the influence of COVID-19, and propose a survey on the impact of irrational consumption behavior and government response measures by using SOR, mediating effect theory, and QFD to address the issue that residents have different consumption behavior under positive and negative impressions of the government and response measures, to explore the causes of irrational consumption behavior and the government’s perceived influence on The results of the existence of the influence of irrational consumption behavior and the government’s response to irrational consumption behavior are proposed. To facilitate the study, we will conduct the research in four areas: recent research results on consumption behavior, an overview of research on irrational consumption behavior, research on consumption behavior under the influence of COVID-19, and a review of research on the SOR model and mediating effects theory, which are reviewed as follows.

Among the recent changes in consumption behavior, scholars in various countries have conducted extensive discussions and studies. [1] explored a model of consumer purchase decision based on SOR theory, and their findings concluded that purchase intention can be enhanced by improving emotional interaction and perceived usefulness. [2] analyzed that consumer attitudes play a fully mediating role between consumers’ internal motivation and consumption behavior, while consumer attitudes play a complementary mediating role between external government promotion and consumer behavior. The above two research results reflect some of the causes of irrational consumer behavior and its external interventions, which is one of the directions of causal exploration in this study. In terms of research on the moderating role of external factors on consumer behavior, [3] study found that trust and price awareness showed positive and negative moderating effects on the relationship between purchase intentions and actual purchases, respectively. And [4] studied consumers’ pork purchase decisions in the context of different bait messages and considered different manifestations of bait messages and obtained that consumers showed significant compromise effects after receiving both low and high price bait messages. [5] on the other hand, found that optimizing the layout of information presentation, either directly through platform design or indirectly by guiding suppliers’ information disclosure, can facilitate consumers’ information search and acquisition, reduce perceived risk while enhancing trust in suppliers and platforms, and thus increase their purchase intention and behavior. The exploration of externalities of consumer behavior in the three studies mentioned above provides a degree of insight into the externalities of irrational consumer behavior. [6] improves the current understanding of the individual and combined role of consumers in green consumption by examining consumers’ perceptions of the functional, psychological, economic, or social benefits of green products. [7] argued that when environmental liabilities, self-efficacy, controllability, and green purchase intentions together have a significant effect on green purchase behavior, the environmental liabilities have the greatest impact. The above three studies on green consumption behavior also expand the breadth of irrational consumption behavior research. [8] studied that consumer mitigation measures should focus on turning climate-friendly consumption behavior into easy-to-implement consumption behavior. [9] used the SHIFT framework to organize the findings and categorize consumer behavior change strategies based on five psychological factors: social influence, habit, personal self, sensory perception, and tangibility. [10] used an extended theory of planned behavior with the addition of risk perceptions in a behavioral prediction model to predict people’s consumption behavior for products irrigated with purified wastewater. [11] proposed the use of artificial intelligence (AI) image recognition technology to recognize and analyze consumers’ facial expressions in order to quantify consumer satisfaction from the perspective of e-commerce companies. We have gained ideas and thoughts on predicting irrational consumer behavior from these three studies. While [12] discuss the influence of social norms on consumer behavior, [13] use integrated structures to classify changes in consumer behavior, [14] measure consumer behavior and [15] exploration of cross-sectional spillover effects of sustainable consumption behavior pave the research foundation and provide an interdisciplinary methodological guide for this paper on the classification, measurement, and social impact of irrational consumption behavior. However, our study innovatively applies SOR and mediating effect theory to focus on the impact of public health emergencies represented by COVID-19 on irrational consumption behavior. At the same time, we break through the limitations of traditional research to explore the psychological and governmental factors that influence irrational sexual consumption behavior.

Among the recent studies on irrational consumption, research on the correlation between irrationality and limited rationality is of rich and specific value to this study. [16] examined the amount of food on hand and consumers’ expectations of the likelihood of COVID-19 infection during COVID-19 as the two main factors influencing rational hoarding as well as bad mood and herd mentality as factors leading to panic buying. [17] explored the influence of decoy effects on consumer behavior consistent with bounded rationality using consumer purchases of pork hindquarters in response to food safety concerns. The perspectives of these two studies motivate our research and effectively demonstrate the important influence of irrational consumer behavior in the food consumption domain. [18] on the other hand, shows how rational and irrational consumer types can be effectively modeled from transactional data using partially ranked preferences. The study by [19] extends the theory of planned behavior (TPB) model with non-willfulness factors to investigate the determinants of purchase intention (PI) for probabilistic items (PTI) in popular mobile games. [20] proposed that a social e-commerce consumption behavior prediction model based on hierarchical polarization features is valid and can play an important role in social consumption behavior prediction. The above three studies provide important demonstrations for the correlation assessment of demand hierarchy and response measures conducted subsequently in the article. The study by [21] points out that accurate assessment of the effects of energy efficiency labeling of home appliances is essential for promoting green consumer behavior and mitigating climate change. [22] demonstrated that cognitive availability does not prevent consumers from making irrational choices through an experiment on the impact of downgrading framework strategies on tourism service upselling. [23] on the other hand, suggest raising awareness and encouraging frugality (e.g., through education and public events), incentives, and pricing to minimize irrational food purchases. We are very grateful to the three research results mentioned above, whose measure recommendations are highly correlated with those of this paper and provide good policy recommendation directions to address irrational consumption behavior in this paper. However, this study is more inclined to explore irrational consumption behaviors and relatively less concerned with limited rationality. In addition, this study mainly considers the impact of overreaction on irrational consumption behavior in the psychological sense.

In the study of consumption behavior under public health emergencies, research on the effects of COVID-19 on consumption behavior paved the way for further articles. [24] investigated that scarcity and negative mindset caused by public health emergencies affected people’s cognition, emotion and behavior, which led to different degrees of irrational consumption behavior. [25] provided a unique explanation for panic buying by examining the perceived susceptibility and severity of a pandemic event and how social influences and social norms can stimulate consumers’ perceived and emotional responses to scarcity. [26] argued that the fear associated with COVID-19 drives submissive consumption behavior and that when people perceive a strong sense of fear, they may be inclined to consume in this manner regardless of their sense of control. The above three studies, as important studies strongly related to the article, provide reasonable explanations for the formation path of irrational consumption behavior under the influence of COVID-19, illuminate the “stimulus-organization-response (SOR)” transmission pattern of overreaction due to the epidemic, which in turn affects demand expectations and finally leads to irrational consumption behavior The article also creates conditions for the search of individual subjective factors and social objective factors. [27] found that proximity to the center of the epidemic (the more distant the pair) was associated with a lower perceived risk of pandemic (the higher the pair) and led to less irrational consumption behavior (the more the pair), and further demonstrated that the mediating effect was moderated by the risk aversion of individuals. We strongly agree with the above findings, and the interpretation and exploration of the mediating effect by the research findings directly influenced the framing and reasoning of the mediating effect in the article. The findings of [28] contribute theoretically to the study of behavioral dispositions to complex emotional states and emotions, document the systematic and consequential effects of potential precursors to contagion on real consumer behavior, and have important practical implications for marketers. [29] found that changes in consumers’ purchase objects, motivations, and time frames under the influence of COVID-19 were more likely to inspire novelty-centered business model designs, while changes in purchase patterns tended to inspire efficiency-centered business models. The above two studies provide methodological guidelines for the construction of the impact of irrational consumer behavior and responses in this paper. [30] investigated household food purchase and acquisition behavior during COVID-19, food values appeared to be fairly stable early in the spread of COVID-19, however, declines in the importance of price and nutrition revealed household trade-offs during COVID-19. [31] studied the purchase behavior of facial essence cosmetics before and during COVID-19 and derived the influence of co-creation, community activation, conversation, halal awareness, and reference groups on related purchase behavior, suggesting that businesspeople in the cosmetics field focus on co-creation and conversation. The above three studies, on the other hand, provide richer research material for this paper, which provides a basis for conducting questionnaire studies and exploring the actual impact of irrational consumption behavior on various consumption types. However, our study focuses more on the different characteristics of irrational consumption behaviors reflected by each type of consumption under COVID-19. In addition, we are biased to generalize common irrational consumption behavior characteristics from different time dimensions.

In terms of SOR models and mediating effects theory, numerous scholars have researched theoretical implementation methods through different domains to provide a rich path to follow for this study. [32] drew on the stimulus-organism-response framework to investigate the key factors influencing consumers’ intention to pay for knowledge and obtained that the expertise of knowledge contributors was the strongest predictor. In terms of SOR model research, various scholars have delineated the basic following patterns of the model in terms of psychological categories. [33] found that external stimuli (food safety events) and internal stimuli (consumption environment orientation) can significantly influence consumer responses (i.e., consumers’ perceptions of organic consumption). [34], on the other hand, developed an integrated model to explain health anxiety based on the SOR model and explored that anxiety sensitivity has a positive effect on metacognitive beliefs. [35] linked the knowledge hiding literature and stimulus-organization-response (SOR) to investigate a positive relationship between defensive silence and defensive voice and counterproductive work behaviors mediated by knowledge hiding. [36] on the other hand, investigated the overall perceived value and overall perceived uncertainty of consumers, and examined the effect of the live function on consumers’ cross-border purchase intention. [37] on the other hand, drew on structural equation modeling (SEM) to construct a theoretical model of sports consumption characteristics and future consumption intentions under COVID-19, using sports and consumption of Kunshan citizens as the research object. [38] explored that consumers’ EV driving experience positively influences their emotions and perceptions of EVs, which in turn activates their intention to purchase EVs. [39] on the other hand, investigated through SOR theory that organizational norms, team energy saving climate, and media campaigns (i.e., stimuli) have significant direct and positive effects on employees’ perceived responsibility for energy saving and social pressure (i.e., organism). In addition, regarding the mediating effects present in the SOR model, different scholars have made rich research results on the mediating effects in different fields. [40] investigated the mediation model in the inactive use of anti-malware, describing the cognitive and behavioral mechanisms of users induced by defensive avoidance and the moderating role of perceived vulnerability and user involvement. [41] examined the possible mechanisms by which psychological capital influences college students’ Internet addiction through the mediating effect of personal college adjustment. [42] defined several fuzzy moderation models and fuzzy mediation- moderation models based on fuzzy least squares estimation (FLSE). [43] examined the moderating role of the relationship between fertility-related quality of life levels and dispositional mindfulness and negative emotions on perceived stress in women with recurrent pregnancy loss. [44] proposed a decomposition-first strategy for multilevel regulatory mediation. [45] examined the predictors of game addiction based on loneliness, motivation, and interpersonal competence from the perspective of mediating effects. [46] assessed the moderating effects of normative beliefs about aggression and family environment on exposure to violent video games and adolescent aggression through a mediated moderation model. The above theoretical studies on the SOR model and mediating effects reflect the inseparability of the SOR model and mediating effects and provide a theoretical path to follow for the analysis of the causes of irrational consumption behavior to be developed in this paper. However, in order to combine the theoretical application with the research direction, we mainly analyze the SOR model and the mediating effect theory within the concept of irrational consumption behavior, while in the process of theoretical derivation, we prefer the mediating effect of overreaction and the moderating role of the government on irrational consumption behavior.

In summary, international research is rich in explaining the causes, assessing the extent, and responding to irrational consumption behaviors, and using SOR models and mediating effects analysis can provide reasonable explanations for irrational consumption behaviors. Further, by analyzing the impact of consumption behaviors under the influence of COVID-19, the individual and social problems caused by irrational consumption behaviors should receive higher attention. However, few studies have been conducted to quantify the causes and effects of irrational consumption behavior by combining SOR models and mediating effects analysis, and no studies have been conducted to develop measures to address irrational consumption behavior by using QFD theory as a route. A complete set of perfect assessment methods and response plans for irrational consumption behaviors under the influence of COVID-19 has not been formed yet. Therefore, based on the existing literature studies and the current research status, our research is to address the problem of irrational consumption under the influence of COVID-19 by first giving QFD to elaborate the logical idea of this paper, then using SOR model and mediating effect theory to quantitatively analyze the causes and effects of irrational consumption behavior, construct the structure of mediating effect and the basis of data prediction and analysis, and then quantitatively calculate Then, we quantitatively calculate the relevant mediating effect indicators of irrational consumption behavior survey data, so as to evaluate the degree of impact of irrational consumption and the effectiveness of countermeasure solutions in combination with the quality house applicable to the impact of COVID-19, and finally give countermeasure suggestions for different situations, so that our present study achieves a deep integration of theory and practical application, and makes further contributions to enriching similar academic research topics internationally.


3.1Quality function deployment

The concept of Quality Function Deployment (QFD) was first introduced by a Japanese researcher in product quality management, YO JI AKAO, and there are many translations of QFD in international academic research, among which the representative ones are: Quality Function Deployment Theory, Quality Function Deployment, Quality Function Deployment, and Quality House. Although the concept of QFD originated from the field of product quality management, QFD has been widely used in social fields and many disciplines, such as system risk assessment, financial investment decisions, corporate strategic planning, engineering quality management, and urban infrastructure design. By tracing the initial development of QFD, the core idea of QFD is to analyze the customer’s needs, study the correlation between the needs and the ways to achieve them and the competitive relationship between the needs, and finally output the quantitative analysis results of the customer’s needs through the key core technology. The method actually builds a “house” inside each discipline, and the customized requirements are realized inside this house, the specific structure of the “house” is shown in Fig. 3 below. In short, the quality function configuration theory is based on “customer requirements - implementation method - correlation analysis of requirements and method - output of quantitative experimental evidence". Its core idea is the qualitative analysis of requirements and related relationships and quantitative experimental output, and the specific operation is to construct a targeted quality house structure model, input the purpose and factors of customer requirements, and then use quantifiable experimental techniques to output the requirements results, so as to realize the transformation of requirements into concrete production solutions that can be implemented.

Fig. 3

The general form of the HOQ.

The general form of the HOQ.
  • 1. Left wall: represents the input factors and demand ratings on the customer’s demand side. The specific can be obtained by reviewing literature, historical data collection, expert consultation, etc.

  • 2. ceiling: represents the technical means or experimental method to realize the quantitative analysis of customer requirements, indicating how to do it for the requirements, that is, giving a technical idea or method that the experimental design can realize the purpose of the requirements.

  • 3. room: used to describe the process relationship between the customer requirements and the realization of the way, indicating the analysis of the relevant relationship between the requirements and technical experiments and the process description of the experimental design.

  • 4. roof: represents the specific process of carrying out the experimental program, indicating the specific steps for conducting quantitative experiments.

  • 5. right wall: represents the results of quantitative analysis of customer demand factors argumentation, which is actually the process of realizing the purpose of demand and accomplishing the goal from the perspective of customer demand.

  • 6. Basement: represents the output customer demand analysis results to carry out qualitative analysis and discussion, and the relevant countermeasure analysis based on the experimental results.

Obviously, QFD is not a quantitative calculation method, but an idea for logically analyzing the correlation between customer needs and product characteristics, regarding the application of quality function configuration theory, which is now widely used in many areas of product design and development in marketing. Among them, [47] proposed a new QFD method based on linguistic Pythagorean fuzzy sets and alternative queuing methods to improve the performance of traditional QFD, and they argued through their research that the proposed theoretical approach is superior; [48] proposed a consensus-based QFD to derive consensus product design requirements importance ratings, where linguistic distributions were used by the QFD team to express their assessment of the relationship between the set of CRs customer requirements and the set of DRs product design requirements; [49] newly developed a method for evaluating technical solutions using traditional QFD methods and a combination with network research and argued the advanced and scientific nature of the method; [50] proposed a method to quantify and integrate Kano’s model into QFD, which analyzed customer needs based on Kano’s model by quantifying the relationship between customer needs and satisfaction, and the method proved to be effective when applied to automotive interior design; [51] developed a new QFD evaluation model called intuitionistic fuzzy QFD, in which the intuitionistic fuzzy analysis hierarchy process is combined with data envelopment analysis and it is argued that the model can help industrial development. It can be seen that the application about QFD theory is now very wide and the use of QFD is cutting edge and advanced in research, so we will use this theory in this study to increase the readability of the article. Then based on this background, we further give the quality house structure model of this study as shown in Fig. 4 below.

Fig. 4

The structure of HOQ.

The structure of HOQ.

3.2Questionnaire method

The questionnaire method is one of the basic research methods to collect information related to the purpose of the survey through a series of questionnaires and to study the behavior and attitudes of the respondents through qualitative and quantitative analysis of the information.

In this study, we used a multiple-choice questionnaire method supplemented by a whole-group random sampling method to conduct a survey in 22 provinces across the country. The research instrument used in this paper was a questionnaire designed on the basis of the Likert Scale. Out of 414 questionnaires, 400 samples were included in our analysis as valid samples. The questionnaire survey included the following aspects: basic information survey, actual consumption expenditure survey, consumption preference and utility survey, survey of expected unreasonable consumption expenditure, and survey of the influence of government image on consumption expectations.

3.3Measurements of variables and selection of indicators

To ensure the fillability of the questionnaire and the analyzability of the survey results, we made the following trade-offs in variable metrics and indicator selection.

  • 1. the survey uses the Chinese Yuan (CNY) as the main unit of measurement and mainly selects the average daily personal consumption as the base variable.

  • 2. The survey data in the basic survey are defined as nominal indicators and sample effectiveness indicators.

  • 3. The real consumption expenditure survey was adopted as a five-level division of Likert Scale on options, setting the interval of average daily personal consumption expenditure above 60–240 (CNY) with an interval of 60 (CNY); setting the interval of each type of consumption expenditure above 0–80 (CNY) with an interval of 10 (CNY).

  • 4. consumption types were ranked by individual perceived utility in the consumption preference survey before and during the epidemic.

  • 5. unreasonable expected consumption expenditure survey distinguishes total consumption expectation and each type of consumption expectation as no change (0–3%), small change (3–10%), insignificant change (10–50%), significant change (50–150%), and significant change (more than 150%)

  • 6. The survey on the impact of residents’ foresight judgment of the government on consumption expectations during the epidemic distinguishes between significant decrease (below –50%), significant decrease (–50% to –10%), uncertain decrease and increase (–10% to 10%), significant increase (10% to 50%), and significant increase (above 50%) in total consumption expectations and in each type of consumption expectations.

To ensure the implementable of the QFD and the quantitative analysis requirements of the quality house, some of the results obtained from the questionnaire were further processed to comply with the quality function unfolding.

The first was the conversion of the data underlying the implementation of the quality house. We corresponded the expenditures on maintaining the necessities of life before and during the epidemic to physiological need-based consumption, medical protection to safety need-based consumption, work socialization to social need-based consumption, reflecting personal value respect to respect need-based consumption, and satisfying self-actualization to self-actualization.

The next is the relevant content in the quality house. In the left wall, we classify the data on the importance of residents’ consumption needs during the epidemic into physiological, security, social, respect, and self-actualization consumption and assign them the values of 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 according to the amount of consumption expenditure in the questionnaire. In the roof, we assign the interrelationship between measures as 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 for particularly positive, positive, irrelevant, negative, and particularly negative correlation, respectively; in the ceiling, we assign the correlation value of each measure with each type of consumption demand as 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 for very important, respectively. In the basement, the effectiveness evaluation index is determined by the relative effectiveness of each classification and the output program (the evaluation gradient is very good, good, average, poor, and very poor, and the values are assigned as 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1, respectively). In the basement, the effectiveness evaluation index is determined by the relative effectiveness of each scenario to the output scenario (the evaluation gradient is good, good, fair, poor, and very poor, with values of 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1).

3.4Causal analysis and QFD research idea framework

With the completion of the causal analysis of the mediating effect of irrational consumption behavior, QFD provides us with a set of program output quality houses to assess the relationship between consumption demand and response measures. The logical connection between the analysis of the causes of irrational consumption behavior and the output of the QFD response program follows the following sequence, as shown in Fig. 5 below.

Fig. 5

A schematic framework for QFD research based on causality analysis.

A schematic framework for QFD research based on causality analysis.

In the part of irrational consumption causation analysis, firstly, the preliminary measure of irrational consumption behavior is completed. Second, we complete the causal hypotheses guided by SOR theory and mediating effects, and make expectations of the impact of different images of the government. After that, we otbain the actual data under the corresponding hypothesis by questionnaire survey method and complete the scale and trend measurement of consumption and the quantitative analysis of mediating effect according to the causal hypothesis, and complete the causal analysis of irrational consumption behavior by the obtained epidemic impact data.

In the irrational consumption scenario development section, the causal output data are entered to form the results of the assessment of the importance of residents’ needs, the results of the assessment of the correlation between measures and needs, and the results of the quantitative rational intervention. After this, we can obtain the correlations of the countermeasures and the importance of the output solutions. Finally, based on the above structure, the specific effectiveness assessment, the overall capacity assessment and the overall effectiveness index of the program are completed in turn to form the comprehensive results and robustness tests of the output program.

4Theoretical derivation and research hypothesis formulation

4.1Hypothesis on the causes of irrational consumption behavior

Based on SOR theory, irrational consumption behavior follows the logic of “stimulus-response-action".19 The outbreak of COVID-19 sent panic signals to residential consumers, which in turn caused an overreaction, directly leading to changes in various types of consumption needs and resulting in changes in actual consumption behavior, including rational changes in consumption behavior, including rational and irrational consumption behavior. Among them, the government’s response has an impact on the extent of residents’ reactions and determines the intensity of their reactions to a certain extent. In addition, residents’ perception of the government’s image affects the effect of the government’s response. Therefore, this study makes the following four hypotheses to construct the mediating effect model of irrational consumption behavior under the epidemic, as shown in Fig. 6 below.

Fig. 6

Model of mediating effects of irrational consumer behavior.

Model of mediating effects of irrational consumer behavior.

H1: The epidemic has a direct relationship with the change of normal consumption behavior to consumption behavior under the epidemic

As one of the objective factors affecting consumption, the epidemic has a direct relationship with the change in consumption of the population. The strength of the link and the magnitude of its impact are measured by the comprehensive adjustment rate (RCA) of the epidemic on consumption.

H2: There is a mediating effect between residents’ overreaction to the epidemic and irrational consumption changes

We classify residents’ consumption under the epidemic into rational consumption and irrational consumption, and residents’ reaction to the epidemic into normal reaction and overreaction. Among them, irrational consumption is determined by overreaction and rational consumption is determined by normal reaction. Since the focus of this paper is on the impact of the epidemic on irrational consumption behavior, the normal reaction is defined as the reaction caused by other factors under the epidemic. Thus, from the perspective of consumption expenditure, irrational consumption expenditure is regulated by over-reaction to pre-epidemic consumption expenditure, and its regulation is expressed as Excessive-reaction adjustment rate(rEA). According to the above analysis, the moderating effect of rational consumption expenditure is then denoted as Other adjustment rate (rOA). From this, we obtain RCA as the sum of rEA and rOA. In summary, we obtain that the overreaction brought by the epidemic acts as a mediator of irrational consumption behavior under the influence of the event, and the magnitude of its mediating effect is expressed by rEA.

H3: Government response moderates residents’ overreaction to the epidemic

As an objective environmental factor, government measures under the epidemic directly affect residents’ perceptions of the government’s image and expectations of future consumption. Since this paper mainly considers the impact of government measures on irrational consumption behavior, we delineate the influence of government measures as only affecting irrational consumption and not rational consumption under normal response. From this, we can obtain the improvement coefficient of government response to overreaction. It should be noted that, according to H2, the change in rEA brought about by the government response also affects the change in the occurrence of RCA.

H4: Residents’ perception of government image affects the moderating effect of government measures on their overreactions

According to the anchoring effect theory, residents’ negative perception of the government image will make consumers more sensitive to the government’s negative epidemic response measures and aggravate individual consumers’ irrational consumption behavior. According to the Hierarchy of Needs theory, consumers are more likely to make consumption choices to satisfy lower-level needs out of a sense of self-protection, and are more likely to purchase lower-level goods that exceed their real needs in an epidemic. In contrast, a positive perception of the government’s image leads to optimistic choices, which in turn leads to more rational consumption and less significant spending adjustments during an epidemic. Thus, we can obtain the rate of change of total expected consumption (PV) under the positive image of the government and the rate of change of total expected consumption (NV) under the negative image. In turn, we can measure the impact of the government’s positive image response on irrational consumption behavior by the variation rate, denoted as positive variated rate (rPV), while the impact of the government’s negative image response on irrational consumption behavior is denoted as negative variated rate (rNV).

4.2Scale trend measurement and mediation effect analysis of irrational consumption behavior

First, a trend measurement of the scale of irrational consumption behavior based on actual data is conducted, which includes a scale measurement of total consumption and a scale measurement of each type of consumption. As the actual average daily consumption of individuals before the epidemic is NCt, the actual average daily consumption of individuals of a certain type of consumption is NCn, and the actual average daily consumption of individuals during the epidemic is PCt, the actual average daily consumption of individuals of a certain type of consumption is PCn. Since the scale measurement of consumption by type is basically the same as that of total consumption, we only take the impact of the epidemic on total consumption as an example below. The following is an example of the impact of the epidemic on total consumption.


Second, after completing the scale trend measurement, the quantitative analysis of the mediating effects is conducted next. The quantitative analysis includes: the combined effect of the epidemic on the change of consumption behavior (H1), the mediating effect between residents’ overreaction to the epidemic and the change of irrational consumption (H2), the moderating effect of the government response on residents’ overreaction to the epidemic (H3), and the extent to which residents’ perception of the government image moderates the moderating effect of the government response (H4). The details are as follows.

Step 1: The shift in consumption behavior resulting from the epidemic is determined by the combined moderating effect of the epidemic on consumption behavior. This combined effect is quantitatively denoted as RCA, and the combined moderating coefficient is determined by the actual total consumption during the epidemic compared to the actual total consumption before the epidemic in the survey data, as the following equation.


Step 2: The mediating effect between overreaction and irrational consumption change is determined by the psychological panic caused by the residents’ overreaction to the epidemic. From conjecture H2, from the perspective of total consumption, the residents’ reaction to the epidemic is quantified as rEAt, and it is also necessary to state that the total expected irrational consumption is denoted as IEt. In the following, the formula is expressed as follows based on the survey data.


From the perspective of each type of consumption, the modifiability of the mediating effect is quantified as rEAn, while the expected irrational consumption of each type during the epidemic is denoted as IEn. In the following, the equation is expressed as follows based on the survey data.


According to the comprehensive analysis of the survey data and the above theory, the total coefficient has a sum relationship with the subtype coefficient. The formula is expressed as follows.


Step 3: The government response has a moderating effect on the overreaction of residents under the epidemic, according to conjectures H3 and H4, but the effect of government image on it needs to be considered when measuring the moderating effect of government measures on overreaction. From this, we can use PV and NV to measure rPV and rNV. based on the survey data, the total improvement coefficient (rPVt) under the positive image of the government is expressed as the following equation, taking the expected consumption under the positive image of the government as an example.


It should be noted that rPVt can be positive or negative, and its response is either positive improvement or negative improvement. In addition, considering the influence of rPVt and rNVt on rEAt, rEAt* refers to the adjustment coefficient of irrational consumption in the sense of total consumption after the combination of government image factors and countermeasures, and using an additive model, the formula is constructed as follows, taking positive image as an example.


In addition to the consideration of the total improvement coefficient, we can obtain the corresponding categorical improvement coefficients based on the above analysis. Thus, the rate of change of each type of consumption under the positive image of the government is expressed as PVn (NVn for the negative image), and according to the survey the following equation can be obtained using PVn as an example.


The relationship between the total improvement factor and the categorical improvement factor can be expressed by the following equation.


Step 4: Combining the above analysis, we can obtain the general relational equation under the influence of the epidemic to analyze the positive government image situation as an example as follows.


4.3Genesis input of QFD

After the causal analysis of the mediating effect, we can obtain the PCn, rEAn, and rEAn* corresponding to each type of consumption. Without considering the government’s image perception response to irrational consumption behavior, we rank and assign values to PCn by size to form the left wall data of the residents’ demand ratings for each type of consumption, i.e., QFD. Meanwhile, rEAn, rEAn* (positive), and rEAn* (nagetive) are entered into the right wall of the QFD according to their measured results to obtain a comparison of the impact capacity of government measures under different image perceptions based on the moderating effect during the epidemic.

4.4QFD-based government response program development

Based on historical data collection, we selected the five most representative governmental outbreak response measures: material supply, personnel movement restriction, COVID-19 case screening, outbreak information release and announcement, and psychological counseling services under the outbreak. At the same time, based on the above measures we researched and developed a targeted program, which included detailed requirements for each specific response measure. In terms of supply, we recommend improving the supply of all types of consumer goods to send positive messages to the consumer market; in terms of mobility restrictions, we believe that reducing restrictions on the movement of people to reduce the negative perception of the epidemic situation is an effective means to reduce irrational consumer behavior; in terms of case detection, timely and professional epidemic detection measures and regular operations can effectively alleviate the anxiety caused by overreaction; and in terms of epidemic detection, timely and professional epidemic detection measures and regular operations can effectively reduce the anxiety caused by overreaction. In terms of epidemic announcement, we believe that real-time update of epidemic announcement and positive and optimistic media news guidance can largely reduce the information anxiety caused by the epidemic; in terms of psychological services, comprehensive psychological counseling services can provide a certain degree of correction at the end of the epidemic response, so that the secondary irrational consumption behavior can be corrected and alleviated to a certain extent. In addition, the importance and timing of the implementation of specific measures in the response plan output by QFD should be determined by the importance and relevance of the measures in the obtained data.

5Study results and robustness tests

5.1Survey results overview and size trend forecast

The survey results show that the total number of questionnaires collected was 414, the number of valid samples was 400, the number of invalid samples was 14, and the sample efficiency rate was 96.62%. In the basic survey, the age range of the sample is mostly concentrated in 18 to 65 years old, 27.25% of people aged 66 to 79 years old and 32.75% of people aged 80 to 99 years old; the income scale of the sample is concentrated in the annual income of RMB 60 to 500,000, 28.75% of people with annual income below 60,000 and 28.25% of people with annual income above 500,000: the survey found that residents personally experienced and The period of the epidemic that residents personally experienced and felt more deeply was mainly from the beginning of 2021 to the end of 2021, with its share reaching 41%. Thus, using the aforementioned scale trend forecasting method and taking the median of each item as the basis for calculation, we obtained the average daily consumption expenditure of the residents. This is shown in Tables 1 and 2 below.

Table 1

Total average daily personal consumption (Median value)

CategoryValue (CNY)Percentage (%)
RCA *(negative)94.85

N = 400. NC, Normal consumption; PC, Pandemic consumption; rEA, Excessive-reaction adjustment rate; IE, Expected irrational consumption; PV, The consumption variation of positive government’s imaginations; NV, The consumption variation of negative government’s imaginations; RCA, Comprehensive adjustment rate; rOA. Other adjustment rate; rPV, the variated rate of positive government’s imaginations; rNV, the variated rate of negative government’s imaginations; rEA*(positive), Excessive-reaction adjustment rate of positive government’s imaginations; rEA*(negative), Excessive-reaction adjustment rate of negative government’s imaginations; RCA*(positive), Comprehensive adjustment rate of positive government’s imaginations; RCA*(negative), Comprehensive adjustment rate of negative government’s imaginations.

Table 2

Categorized daily personal consumption (Median value)

CategoryNecessityMedicalWork and socializingEsteemSelf-actualization

N = 400. NC, Normal consumption; PC, Pandemic consumption; rEA, Excessive-reaction adjustment rate; IE, Expected irrational consumption; PV, The consumption variation of positive government’s imaginations; NV, The consumption variation of negative government’s imaginations; rPV, the variated rate of positive government’s imaginations; rNV, the variated rate of negative government’s imaginations.

In the actual expenditure survey, the consumption data before the epidemic showed that NCt = $150.77; and from NCn, we deduced that: the average daily consumption expenditure of individuals to maintain the necessities of life was $53.70, medical protection was $30.86, work socialization was $25.39, reflecting personal value respect was $25.80, and satisfying self-actualization was $21.94. On the other hand, during the epidemic, PCt = $142.29, and in the same way as above, we deduce that the median PCn is $48.34, $30.39, $24.57, $26.38, and $21.29. In the survey of expected unreasonable consumption expenditure share (rEAt) without considering the impact of government measures, we obtained the expected total consumption as a percentage of pre-epidemic consumption of 17.17%, and the PCn shares were 17.43%, 15.80%, 17.19%, 14.13%, and 19.93%, in that order.

Based on the survey data, we applied the aforementioned size-trend forecasting method and took the median of each item as the basis of prediction, we obtained the absolute impact of the epidemic on the average daily real total consumption expenditure of residents as $8.48 (5.62%). From the perspective of each type of consumption, the actual impact on maintaining the necessities of life is $5.36 (9.98%), on medical protection is $0.47 (1.52%), on work socialization is $0.82 (3.23%), on reflecting personal value respect is –$0.58 (–2.25%), and on satisfying self-actualization is 0.65 (2.96%). In the same way as above, we deduce that IEt is $25.89, and IEn is $26.28, $23.82, $25.92, $21.30, and $30.05 in that order.

5.2Overview of causes of irrational consumer behavior and program output

According to the preliminary measurement of the survey results and the scale of influence, we can derive the causes of irrational consumption by mediating effect analysis. From H1 and survey data, we can get RCA = 94.38%; from H2 and survey data, we can get rEAt = 17.17%, rEAn is 17.43%, 15.80%, 17.19%, 14.13%, 19.93% in order; from H3, H4 and survey data, we can get rPVt = –10.45%, rNVt = –0.47%, meanwhile, rPVn is –17.02%, –17.44%, –8.07%, –12.64%, and –14.64%, and rNVn is –1.43%, –2.21%, –2.76%, –0.97%, and –1.34%, in that order. Thus, rEAt* under the influence of the government’s inherent image then yields 6.72% under the positive image of the government and 17.64% under the negative image of the government, respectively.

Therefore, we conclude that irrational consumption behavior is determined by residents’ overreaction to the epidemic (rEA), while its overreaction is moderated by the government’s response (rEAt*), and the moderating effect of its response is influenced by residents’ perception of the government’s image (rPV or rNV). Based on the analysis of the causes of irrational consumption, it can be concluded that irrational consumption behavior originates from the change of consumption expectation caused by residents’ overreaction to the epidemic, and the most effective way to cope with irrational consumption behavior is to change the current epidemic response measures according to the existing image of the government.

Thus, we used the QFD technical analysis route to complete the selection and evaluation of the counterpart program, and the data related to the quality house are shown in Fig. 7 below.

Fig. 7

The deployment of QOF of irrational consumer behavior analysis.

The deployment of QOF of irrational consumer behavior analysis.

It can be seen that the Government intervention index (IGI) under QFD evaluation was 0 before the epidemic, 0.14 under positive perception and 0.02 under negative perception. in addition, the quality house indicates the correlation between the measures, for example, less mobility restrictions are inversely correlated with regular case exclusion. It should be noted that we used the expert interview method to determine the degree of correlation between the consumption needs of the population under the epidemic and the response measures, and the importance of the needs in the minds of the population was ranked and assigned according to the percentage of the actual consumption of each type of the population during the epidemic in the survey results, so that we obtained the importance of the measures in the response scenario as 56, 41, 52, 27 and 31, respectively. Based on the measures of the response plan, we used brainstorming and roving discussions to ensure the effectiveness of the expert interview method in each case, and evaluated the Countermeasure effectiveness index for each case using the pre-epidemic situation as a benchmark, which was 0 before the epidemic, 2.49 during the epidemic, 2.28 under positive perception, and 2.10 under negative perception.

5.3Robustness testing of survey results and output solutions

We performed Pearson analysis of the relevant data and models using the variable substitution method. By changing the value of the median of the variables to the value of the weighted arithmetic mean, we obtained each data under the weighted arithmetic mean sense, as shown in Table 3 below.

Table 3

Categorized daily personal consumption (Weighted arithmetic mean)

CategoryNecessityMedicalWork and socializingEsteemSelf-actualization

N = 400. NC, Normal consumption; PC, Pandemic consumption; rEA, Excessive-reaction adjustment rate; IE, Expected irrational consumption; PV, The consumption variation of positive government’s imaginations; NV, The consumption variation of negative government’s imaginations; rPV, the variated rate of positive government’s imaginations; rNV, the variated rate of negative government’s imaginations.

Thus, we did Pearson analysis of the data under the above weighted average with the median sense. The correlation coefficients p(NCn) = 0.99, p(PCn) = 0.99, p(rEAn) = 0.73, p(PVn) = 0.79, p(NVn) = 0.86, p(rPVn) = 0.80 and p(rNVn) = 0.85. Thus, it can be analyzed that p(NCn) and p(PCn) in the mean sense and p (NCn) and p(PCn) in the mean sense are highly correlated, and p(rEAn), p(PVn), p(NVn), p(rPVn), and p(rNVn) are significantly correlated. Therefore, there is a significant correlation between the median measured by our constructed mediating effects model and the values of the subtypes of data in the sense of the weighted arithmetic mean, which in turn leads to the conclusion that the mediating effects model is robust. In addition, it can be inferred that our output scenarios in the quality house using the relevant data are also robust, and the prediction of the rational intervention index and the evaluation of the utility of the measures output by their scenarios are also robust.

6Discussion of research findings and methods

From the above data analysis, it can be concluded that the impact of the epidemic on consumption behavior is mainly concentrated in the area of consumption to maintain the necessities of life, and the types that have a greater impact are mainly work social spending and satisfying self-fulfillment spending. Among them, the scale expansion on the necessities of life is more obvious, and the consumption that reflects the respect of each person becomes the only item that shrinks in scale. Based on the actual consumption data, it can be predicted that the impact of the future outbreak is still likely to be concentrated in the areas of maintaining the consumption of necessities and work social. By analyzing the data on expected irrational consumption, we corroborate the impact of irrational consumption behavior under COVID-19 on maintenance of life necessity, work social and self-actualization type consumption, with the most profound impact on self-actualization type consumption.

Based on the output of the Quality House, we can conclude that the best case scenario is when residents have a positive perception of the government image. In this case, the government should do the following in sequential order: (1) adequate supplies and regular case screening measures; (2) real-time updates of epidemic announcements; and (3) other supporting measures should include well-developed psychological services and fewer restrictions on the movement of people. The worst case scenario is when residents have negative perceptions of the government’s image. In this case, the government should do the following in order: (1) seize the focus on improving the quality of psychological services; (2) focus on the supply of goods and case detection; (3) grasp the change in demand brought about by mobility restrictions; (4) update the epidemic bulletin with a small but timely measure to ensure that irrational consumption behavior is (4) to ensure that irrational consumption behavior is corrected in a timely manner, thus ensuring the basic stability of the consumption surface. For the situation during the surveyed epidemic, the government should reduce unnecessary mobility restrictions. In addition, the government’s response plan in each case cannot be separated from a common adequate supply of materials to ensure that individual irrational consumption behavior does not evolve into collective irrational consumption behavior, thus ensuring the orderly and smooth operation of the market.

We provide some contributions to the study of irrational consumption behavior: (1) we use the SOR model to more clearly describe the causes of irrational consumption behavior and predict its impact rate and extent; (2) we expand the practical significance of QFD in the context of marketing and provide a systematic solution for the government to deal with irrational consumption behavior; (3) we believe that the government’s reduction of restrictions on the movement of people can (3) we argue that reducing government restrictions on the movement of people can greatly reduce the impact of the epidemic on residents’ irrational consumption behavior, in exchange for the stability of the consumption surface in the immediate sense; (4) the output solution mitigates residents’ overreaction to the epidemic, while providing help in persuading consumers to make rational choices and adjust their expected consumption.

In addition, there are some limitations in the data and methodology of the study: (1) the questionnaire survey has some subjective limitations. In order to investigate residents’ irrational consumption behavior, the questionnaire survey is highly subjective and is conducted in a subjective self-assessment manner, in which there are inevitably individual residents’ false expectations due to unclear understanding, which in turn affects the objectivity and accuracy of the survey data on irrational consumption expectations. (2) In QFD, we adopt the expert survey method to assess the correlation between each response measure and consumption needs (as well as the utility assessment between the output solution and each situation), thus, the assessment results of these two elements by different experts may be inconsistent, and the output results of the relevant solutions may also produce a certain degree of subject differences. However, in this study, quality control measures of brainstorming and roving discussions have been taken in the relevant assessment to ensure the reliability of the output solutions, and to strive for the reliability and robustness of the output solutions. (3) Due to the complexity of the research subjects (including both total consumption significance and sub-types of consumption significance), the study had to construct a relatively complex analysis system to ensure the extensiveness and reliability of the research results. Directions on simplifying the causal measures and model runs of this paper are available for subsequent scholars to explore and study.

Statement of interest

All of us authors agree to submit this paper to your journal and have no preference for other journals or international conferences of interest, and hereby declare it.

Data announcements

Our investigation involves a confidentiality agreement with the Chinese government, and the relevant data is not available to the public at this time.



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