By Lacey Turner (M.S. in Commerce ’21)
As an M.S. in Commerce student in the Marketing and Management track, I’ve had the opportunity to take Consumer Behavior and Pricing Strategy with Professor Amar Cheema this semester. Some of the key topics discussed in this course include theories relating to consumer behavior, how consumers process information about products and services, how consumers search for information and make decisions, perspectives on pricing, and analyzing and developing pricing alternatives. We discuss these concepts in class by relating them to recent news articles and research papers.
Like the students in the M.S. in Commerce Program, Professor Cheema used higher education and a master’s degree to pivot from a non-business undergraduate background in Electronics Engineering to a career in Marketing and teaching. After realizing that he did not want to pursue Electronics Engineering, Cheema applied to business school to pursue an MBA in Marketing, with a minor in Organizational Behavior, at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta. After earning his MBA, he worked in a sales and marketing position before deciding to make another career pivot and get a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado at Boulder. During the Ph.D. program, Cheema conducted research about consumer decision making for purchases, pricing, spending, and budgeting, while also gaining teaching experience as a graduate instructor.
During my conversation with Professor Cheema, I learned that he conducted research about the website eBay to analyze the psychological elements of consumer behavior, such as how individuals behave in online auctions and how that behavior changes over time. One of the behaviors he researched was individuals’ preferences and how they were generating their willingness to pay for items at an online auction. Professor Cheema also discussed the decline in popularity in online auctions over time by mentioning that, in the early 2000s, consumers were using these auctions as a form of entertainment. In today’s world of online shopping, consumers are able to get almost as much benefit through a fixed-price option, such as Amazon, as they are online auctions.
Professor Cheema has also conducted research about a consumer’s motivation to save or spend money as a function of how much loan debt they have accumulated. As both a Marketing student and consumer, I found this research very interesting. Not only does it directly correlate to what we learn in class about how consumers process information about products and their perspectives on pricing, but it also is an area of study that a majority of students can personally relate to.
In this research, Professor Cheema and his colleagues found that when individuals think their debt is not manageable to pay off, they are more likely to be demotivated to save money and will spend more. By studying this consumer behavior towards spending and budgeting, they found that there is a way to frame consumer loan debt so that individuals stay motivated to pay their loans. For instance, if debt is presented in a monthly payment amount, as opposed to the entire amount, the debt seems more manageable and people feel motivated to save money and pay off the debt.
Throughout the Consumer Behavior and Pricing Strategy course, Professor Cheema has discussed his research in relation to the topics and theories we are learning. He uses this approach to teaching in order to give the topics more context and make the material relatable through its connection to current research or news articles. For example, another research project Professor Cheema conducted was about background colors on websites and how those colors can affect consumers attitudes and moods, which we discussed during our consumer perceptions class earlier this semester. His research on online auctions and eBay is also something we discuss in class when learning about the consumer purchase journey and consumer decision making, in terms of information search and evaluation of alternatives.
Another key component of the Consumer Behavior and Pricing Strategy course is the pricing topics presentations that we complete during the second half of the semester. During my conversation with Professor Cheema, I asked what he hopes students gain academically from these presentations and how they help students with their career preparation. He mentioned that the course is taught on the dimensions of consumer behavior and how consumers apply pricing to their decisions, so the purpose of these presentations is to get students thinking about the different dimensions of price and introduce graduate seminars.
In these seminar sessions, we read research articles about pricing concepts and present them to the class, which gives us the opportunity to gain experience in how research is conducted in marketing. Professor Cheema mentioned that he features these presentations in the course because the elements of pricing are psychological reactions that consumers have every day as we are purchasing products. Also, the presentation itself and the discussion format they take on facilitate a deeper understanding and stronger level of class engagement.
Professor Cheema’s favorite thing about teaching in the M.S. in Commerce Program at McIntire is that each year brings a different set of individuals with unique perspectives and experiences. While the overall content of the course and theories in Consumer Behavior and Pricing Strategy tend to stay the same over the years, the students are always different. The new perspectives and conversations that each new class of students brings to the course allow him to change the way he presents and discusses the course material.
One of the things he most enjoys about Charlottesville and encourages UVA students to enjoy is the scenic beauty in the area. Whether it is a hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a walk up to Monticello, or sitting out in the countryside, the natural beauty is something that many big cities lack. Professor Cheema often encourages his students to enjoy this unique aspect of Charlottesville while they have the chance.
Thank you to Professor Cheema for sitting down with me and talking about his professional journey to marketing and teaching, his research, and how he incorporates his research into the Consumer Behavior and Pricing Strategy course at McIntire.