Kelly repertory grid: a mixed design to explore consumer spending pattern

  • Meriam Belkhir
  • Joel Jallais
  • Fathi Akrout


In consumer behavior research, previous conceptualizations of departures from rationality have been approached either as errors, impulsive or compulsive behaviors. However, what about cases where the consumer deviates knowingly and freely from what he considers to be the best option? According to Aristotle, these instances refer to akrasia: a philosophical concept describing situations where the agent decides deliberately, freely and intentionally to act against his own better judgment.

Studying manifestations of such behaviors in the realm of consumer expenditures poses a challenge for researchers due to the difficulty to explore such deviations. This difficulty stems from two main sources. The first one is related to the intimate nature of these expenditures which may hinder easy participants’ openness during classical unstructured interviews and make it difficult to confess such transgressions. The second one is related to participants themselves who may be unable to make sense of such expenditures and to easily access their motivations as well as features of such transgressions.

To overcome such limits, we present in this paper the potential of a not commonly used mixed approach, namely « Kelly Repertory Grid » approach consisting of a structured design combining qualitative exploration and quantitative analysis. Based on the personal construct theory developed by Kelly (1955), this approach allows generating the repertory of constructs through which an individual makes sense of his world and to explore the interrelationship between them (Hunter et Beck, 2000). As a technique, it is presented as a tool of cognitive cartography allowing to explore and analyze individuals’ cognitive process depicting the way they make sense of their world (Wright, 2006).

In our research, we used this technique to conceptualize expenditures confessed as transgressing individual’s evaluation standards.

For this, we conducted an extensive qualitative study based on twenty-seven in-depth individual interviews. Each interview lasted between 1h30 and 2h. After introducing the conversation topic, the data collection process involved three steps:

First, six generic elements had been presented on cards describing spending involving either transgression of one’s standards or being in agreement with them. Consumers were invited to assign real illustrations to these generic elements. Second, for each random triad of elements, consumers were invited to select two of them that are similar but different from the third in terms of “how they come to make sense of their correctness and appropriateness”. This process allowed us to elicit constructs, defined by Kelly as bipolar distinctions through which consumers interpret their world. Finally, elements were linked to constructs by assigning numbers on a scale ranging from 1 to 5. 

Data analysis consisted of three stages alternating quantitative and qualitative analysis and focusing on a nomothetical analysis level by looking for consensus and communalities through the 27 analyzed grid.

The first analysis is quantitative and helps the researcher to organize elicited data. In this step, we used a generalized Procrustes analysis (GPA) using IDIOGRID software to reduce the 209 elicited constructs into only the 143 most shared constructs among interviewees resulting in a consensus percentage approaching 80%.

The second step is a qualitative analysis where we organized the remaining constructs into conceptual categories through thematic analysis and by applying rules of open and axial coding. Results from this qualitative step allowed as to initially organize the 143 constructs into 25 categories which were later re-grouped into only 6 meta-categories describing :

  • Manifestations of transgressive expenditure behaviors (7 categories)
  • Characteristics’(2 categories)
  • Motivations (2 categories)
  • Preliminaries (3 categories)
  • Consequences (4 categories)
  • Retrospective evaluations (6 categories)

Axial coding allowed us to trace the process through which transgressions take place. Four steps can be described:  

  • The consumer begins by perceiving a gap between the desired option and the degree to which it is considered as a transgression. This gap is amplified by motivations related to the social pressure of possessions or/and personal gratification.
  • Being conscious of this gap, and having the required motivation, the consumer deliberately decides to transgress his own standards. In order to facilitate his progression, he engages in preliminary, cognitive efforts or behaviors such as :
    • Apprehending negative feedback from significant others
    • Preparing justifications of his behavior
    • Fomenting stratagems
  • Transgressing his own evaluation standards by engaging in one of the following expenditures behaviors: exceeding financial means, priority subversion, deviation from product constellation, violating one’s principles about indebtedness, an impediment to planning, deviation from one’s possession convictions, challenging significant other’s advice
  • Acknowledging the consequences of his spending behavior: ambivalent consumption experiences, psychological (guilt), financial (strain) and relational consequences, calling into question one or more aspect of the spending


In this paper, we tried to highlight the relevance of Kelly repertory grid approach as :

  • A structured approach with a focus on qualitative data generation and analysis that can be used to study a difficult subject;
  • A mixed approach in which a quantitative step, by applying GPA analysis, allows to find consensus through individual data grids and provide a nomothetical analysis and interpretation of data. This analysis focuses on finding and representing the most shared concepts used by participants to make sense of their transgressions.
  • A flexible approach that can be applied to many contexts in social sciences as well as other disciplines.