The price is right: price helps consumers stay committed to their long-term product preferences

From a product’s ease of use to its number of overall features, consumers often make tradeoffs in choosing a product. Although consumers tend to prefer higher functionality in the long-term, they often prefer no-hassle convenience in the short-term.


A new study by lead author, Kelly Lee, Ph.D., a post-doctoral research scholar at Olin Business School of the Washington University in St. Louis finds that highlighting the price of a product helps consumers stick to their long-term preferences by nudging them to think about value for the money that they need to pay. And the long-term preferences tend to value higher functionality than higher convenience.

“We propose that highlighting price information makes consumers choose higher functionality products even when they make choices in the short-term because consumers believe that products with more features and functions represent higher value,” writes Kelly Lee, PhD.

The study, “The Effect of Price on Preference Consistency Over Time,” will be published in the June 2014 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research and is co-authored with Min Zhao, PhD, associate professor of marketing at University of Toronto.

For example, the pair writes, consider a consumer who is looking for photo-editing software to create a photo album in two days. The available software choices include either a software program with a full range of image-editing features that is difficult to learn and use or a software program that provides a simple user-interface and easy installation but has limited image-editing features.

Because the software will be used in the near future, the consumer tends to focus on the ease of using the software, ignoring what features are available. However, when the time to actually create the photo album arrives, this consumer may regret her choice and wish that the software had more features that she would like.

Over four experiments involving tradeoffs between the functionality and convenience of products, the researchers observed the effect price had on participants’ product selections over time. After seeing price information, participants valued functionality over ease of use and they preferred products with more features despite their low convenience.

“Brands offering products with a salient price tag can help consumers choose products that provide long-term satisfaction and decrease buyer’s remorse by helping consumers stay committed to their long-term preferences,” the authors conclude.