New Haven, Conn., September 9, 2008 - Whether deciding to buy a new iPhone or a new car, consumers often do not consider that the initial thrill of a new purchase will wear off over time, according to new research from the Yale Center for Customer Insights at the Yale School of Management.
This finding may help explain why people overspend on frivolous items or expensive extra product features whose enjoyment will be short-lived. In a series of experiments, the authors, Yale SOM professors Nathan Novemsky and Ravi Dhar, and doctoral candidate Jing Wang, asked participants to predict their enjoyment from products including cars, plasma TVs, stereos, and digital cameras at different points in time.
They found that even when people believe they will enjoy a product less in the future as they use and adapt to it, they fail to apply that belief when making a purchase decision. "People don't automatically think about how their enjoyment from an item they are purchasing might change over an extended period of time," said Novemsky. "They may judge the enjoyment of having a product by considering what it's like to acquire that product."
When the researchers prompted participants to pay attention to time passage and the duration of using a product, it cued their beliefs about how their enjoyment from a product would diminish in the future. Those who were not prompted overestimated their long-term enjoyment.
In one experiment, participants were asked to consider two cars to buy: a base model sedan and the same car with a sunroof for an additional $900. Before choosing a car, one group predicted how much they would enjoy the sunroof several months after purchase, while another predicted enjoyment at two points, both immediately after purchase and several months later, to simulate the progression of time. The two-prediction group accurately expected their enjoyment of the sunroof to diminish over time. The single-prediction group overestimated; their enjoyment level for the sunroof several months after purchase matched that of the two-prediction group immediately after purchase.
Once people think about how they will enjoy a product less in the future, it shifts their product preferences away from higher priced choices with extra features whose enjoyment will quickly dissipate to cheaper, simpler options. Only 26% of participants in the double-prediction group would buy the car with the sunroof compared to 61% in the single-prediction group.
"Ironically, our results suggest that marketers who highlight the duration of owning or using a product by emphasizing a positive attribute, such as durability or a 5-year warranty, might actually dampen consumer interest because consumers may think about how they will adapt to it over time," said Novemsky.