The shorter the time-lag before a consumer gets to enjoy his/her purchase, the more likely s/he is to make an emotional rather than objective decision, recent research indicates. This apparently holds true whatever the purchasing channel used.

Feelings Can Drive Online Purchasing Decisions As Well

Marketing experts have felt for a long time that consumers are more likely to rely on their feelings when the enjoyment of the purchase decision is closer in time than when the outcome of the buying decision is further off in the future. Now two researchers have just published the results of a study*, which provides evidence in support of this hypothesis. To test the theory, they ran an experiment with two groups of students. The students were given a choice of two apartments to rent. The first offered an option whose appeal was more emotional than rational: the apartment was small and inconveniently located, but prettily decorated and with a beautiful view. By contrast, the second option represented a more rational choice – a spacious apartment in a more convenient geographical location. The first group, made up of students in their final year who were really thinking about, or were asked to imagine, moving into their own apartment quite soon, showed more interest in the first, emotionally charged, option.


The time-lag between decision and enjoyment counts


By contrast, the younger students, for whom the prospect of moving into an apartment was much more distant, demonstrated a more ‘rational’ approach in their decision-making, tending to go for the second option. The researchers therefore suggest in their conclusions that “companies should consider the time between consumer decision-making and consumption” – i.e. focusing on messages that appeal to consumers' feelings when a decision will be taken immediately prior to consumption; and emphasising messages that appeal to objective assessments when they will be deciding well in advance of consumption. Asked to comment, Armelle Solelhac, CEO of the digital marketing and communication firm Switch, said she was not at all surprised by the results of the study. She points out nevertheless that the Internet “has changed the game” in terms of the way emotions play out in buying decisions. Given the profusion of blogs and specialised sites, the online shopper no longer approaches a product without preconceptions. “In the past there used to be that moment when a shopper discovered a product on the shelf, which we call the first moment of truth’,” she explained to L’Atelier. Then once s/he had been using it for a time, there was a second ‘moment of truth’ related to actual experience.


Does online shopping take the emotion out of the decision?


An Internet user will nowadays obtain as much information as possible on the product before buying, which tends to deflate the ‘moment of truth’. So does that mean that online shopping is devoid of emotion? “No, it doesn’t. Some firms manage to rekindle the drama by creating rarity – by limiting the buying period to a 24-hour period, for instance,” points out Ms Solelhac. Which brings us back to the question of the timing of the purchase that the Chang-Pham study examines. But timing isn’t the only means of arousing emotion. "You can also create feelings by taking great care with the graphics and visuals on your website and tweaking it to the maximum,” underlines the Switch CEO. Forget about hassling your Internet customer with a surfeit of text. Creating feelings pays off. For example, a person who decides to go on vacation at the last minute might be drawn to a particular holiday destination if it’s attractively presented on the site and gets him/her dreaming. That does not necessarily mean that feelings will have no part in planning holidays several months in advance, but the emotion will tend to have less impact, the research suggests.


*By Hannah H. Chang (National University of Singapore Business School) and Michel Tuan Pham (Columbia University, New York), published in the Journal of Consumer Research.