Media Releases

How do consumers estimate a good time?

March 18, 2011

TORONTO, ON — Con­sumers esti­mate they’ll spend more time enjoy­ing activ­i­ties when the tasks are bro­ken down into com­po­nents, accord­ing to a new study in the Jour­nal of Con­sumer Research. But using the same process for an unpleas­ant event decreas­es time esti­mates.

“It has been well estab­lished that pre­dict­ed con­sump­tion time plays a cen­tral role in con­sumers’ eval­u­a­tions and pur­chase deci­sions,” write authors Claire I. Tsai and Min Zhao of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to’s Rot­man School of Man­age­ment. “If con­sumers fore­see spend­ing a lot of time using a prod­uct or ser­vice (such as gym mem­ber­ship or cable TV), they are more like­ly to pur­chase it.”

In three exper­i­ments with 500 par­tic­i­pants the authors found that con­sumers’ pre­dict­ed con­sump­tion time was influ­enced by their assess­ment of the con­sump­tion expe­ri­ence (pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive) and the way the expe­ri­ence was rep­re­sent­ed. “Unpack­ing a plea­sur­able event into sev­er­al sub­ac­tiv­i­ties increas­es the time con­sumers expect to spend on the event,” the authors write.

When con­sumers face an unpleas­ant event, the more con­stituent com­po­nents they con­sid­er, the greater dis­plea­sure they expect. “Peo­ple have a lay belief that they will spend more time on pleas­ant events than unpleas­ant ones, so the changes in pre­dict­ed enjoy­ment or dis­plea­sure caused by unpack­ing sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly influ­ence the amount of time con­sumers expect to spend using a prod­uct or ser­vice,” the authors write.

In one exper­i­ment, the researchers asked par­tic­i­pants to pre­dict how much time they would spend on an over­ar­ch­ing event—attending social activ­i­ties through­out a week­end. The event con­sist­ed of a blind date, a birth­day par­ty, and a phone con­ver­sa­tion. The week­end was described as pleas­ant or unpleas­ant and it was pre­sent­ed either in one para­graph or three bul­let points. Half the par­tic­i­pants made a sin­gle time esti­mate for the over­ar­ch­ing event, and the rest made sep­a­rate time esti­mates for the indi­vid­ual com­po­nents.

“When the event was described as pleas­ant, unpack­ing increased the pre­dict­ed enjoy­ment, which in turn increased pre­dict­ed con­sump­tion time,” the authors write. “How­ev­er, when the event was described as unpleas­ant, unpack­ing increased the pre­dict­ed dis­plea­sure and thus reduced time esti­mates.”

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Rot­man School of Man­age­ment
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
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