With Valentine's day rapidly approaching, you might have several romantic gift ideas in mind. But what happens when February 14 rolls around and you still haven't found a gift? According to one study by researchers from UC Berkeley, Stanford and the University of Chicago, your perspective on holiday gift-buying may change dramatically as the big day approaches. In an article that appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research, the authors explained that as the event draws nearer, consumers become less concerned with buying a gift that will result in a positive response and more concerned with finding something that will help avoid a fight.
"Last-minute shoppers on a tight deadline will pay more for a product advertised as a means to prevent a negative outcome (such as disappointing their spouse) than for a product advertised as a means to promote a positive outcome (such as thrilling their spouse with the perfect gift)," explains Jennifer L. Aaker of the University of Chicago.
In a series of three experiments conducted with hundreds of college student participants, researchers found that the amount of time available to make a purchase is a major influence on consumer behavior.
For example, one experiment asked participants to imagine that they were considering a European vacation. Some of the students were told to consider last minute vacation offers, while others considered a vacation that was months away. Then, participants were then presented with ads from a fictional travel website. Some of the ads focused on positive outcomes ("Get the best deals! and "Give yourself a memorable vacation!") while other focused on avoiding a negative outcome ("Don't get stuck at home!" and "Don't get ripped off!"). After viewing these ads, participants then wrote down a dollar amount that they were willing to pay for the vacation tickets.
The study found that participants who were planning a last minute vacation were willing to pay an average of nearly $180 more than those planning a vacation that was months away.
The findings have important implications for both consumers and advertisers. For example, marketers promoting products and services that are prevention-oriented (such as insurance and health care) should focus on how buying something can help consumers avoid immediate negative consequences. For consumers, the study suggests that buyers should exercise caution when buying at the last minute.
The Psychology of Love
Reference: Theriault, C., Aaker, J.L, and Pennington, G.L. (2008) Time will tell: The distant appeal of promotion and imminent appeal of prevention. Journal of Consumer Research, 34, 670-681.
Photo courtesy Dan Shirley