Price awareness can be a buzzkill
Most people who buy a new car, electronic device or music album online want to enjoy the purchase as long as possible, but researchers have discovered something that decreases our satisfaction more quickly.
The investigators conducted a series of seven experiments in which consumers used a product over a period of time, and they found that enjoyment of the experience declined faster for people who were aware of the product's price. Their findings are available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
"Being reminded of the price makes the experience less relaxing," says Kelly Haws, PhD, a professor at Vanderbilt University and lead author of the study. "This is due to the fact that we tend to evaluate the experience more critically when it's associated with money."
In one experiment, participants selected five songs online and listened to each song three times. One group saw the song's price of 99 cents as they were listening, but the price was not listed for the other group. Then the participants rated the songs on a scale of 1 to 100. After listening the first time, both groups gave most songs a rating of approximately 80. After listening the third time, the group with price awareness had dropped to a rating of about 30, while the other group had only dropped to 60.
"The negative effect of pricing only emerged over time, not at the beginning," Haws says.
The researchers had similar findings when participants retrieved M&Ms from a gumball machine. When people saw the price of the M&Ms on the machine, their enjoyment of the snack dropped more quickly over time.
For consumers, the findings suggest that people will enjoy an experience longer if they avoid focusing on the price.
"If you are going on a date, don't talk about the cost," Haws says. "Or if you are going to an amusement park where the lines are long, thinking too much about the price of admission will steal away from your enjoyment of the experience."
For marketers, the study suggests that it may be beneficial to separate the price of a product from the experience. This could prevent consumer burnout, which leads people to stop buying a product and switch to another one.
The study also has implications for people who are actually trying to stop enjoying an experience. For example, people who are trying to eat less junk food or cut down on spending may benefit from focusing on prices more often.