How does 365 days (instead of 1 year) affect consumer decision making?

January 17, 2012

How long it will take to bake a cake? Twenty-eight minutes or half an hour? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, most consumers would trust the 28-minute estimate, if it comes from a reliable source.

"Consumers' of the precision and reliability of quantitative product information looms large in their decision making," write authors Y. Charles Zhang and Norbert Schwarz (both University of Michigan). They found that generally prefer more precise or "granular" information to larger units. In the case of the cake, most people perceive "28 minutes" to be more precise and therefore more reliable than "half an hour," which sounds a bit like rounding and could presumably mean a few minutes more or less. This observation has important implications for how consumers interpret quantitative information.

"Consumers perceive products as more likely to deliver on their when the promise is described in fine-grained rather than coarse terms and choose accordingly," the authors conclude. For example, "one year" and "12 months" refer to the same amount of time, but leave different impressions.

In one study, participants chose between GPS units: one was described as lasting "up to two hours" and another, which was heavier and more expensive, "up to three hours." "When the units' battery life was described in hours, only 26 percent picked the 'up to two hours' unit—they were concerned it might run out of power prematurely," the authors write. "But when the battery was described as 'up to 120 minutes,' more than twice as many consumers (57 percent) were happy to pick the same unit."

The granularity effect is only effective when consumers perceive the speaker to be competent and trustworthy. If they don't, the speaker's choice of words has no influence on consumer estimates.

These findings highlight that the choice of unit needs careful consideration in product descriptions and marketing communications. "A trustworthy and cooperative communicator should be as precise as possible but not more precise than warranted," the conclude.

Explore further: Pay attention! Many consumers believe 36 months is longer than 3 years

More information: Y. Charles Zhang and Norbert Schwarz. "How and Why One Year Differs from 365 Days: A Conversational Logic Analysis of Inferences from the Granularity of Quantitative Expressions." Journal of Consumer Research: August 2012 (published online October 7, 2011).

Related Stories

Is it best to withhold favorable information about products?

October 21, 2011

Consumers are more likely to choose products when marketers withhold some favorable information until late in the choice process, according to the Journal of Consumer Research. But marketers need to walk a fine line to disclose ...

Early product launches: How will consumers respond?

April 19, 2011

A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research explains why consumers often indicate they are willing to pay more for a product that is not yet available—but are reluctant to pay that price when the product is ultimately ...

Recommended for you

Bones found in Roman-era grave in London may be Asian

September 28, 2016

(Phys.org)—A small team of researchers with Durham University, the Museum of London and the British Geological Survey has tentatively established that two skeletons found in a Roman-era grave in London are of Asian origin. ...

Outrageous heads led to outrageously large dinosaurs

September 27, 2016

Tyrannosaurus rex and other large meat-eating theropods were the biggest baddies on the prehistoric block, and ornaments on their heads could help us figure out why. New research from North Carolina State University shows ...

Ancient eggshell protein breaks through the DNA time barrier

September 27, 2016

Scientists from the Universities of Sheffield, York and Copenhagen have identified fossil proteins in a 3.8 million year-old ostrich eggshell, suggesting that proteins could provide valuable new insights into the evolutionary ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.