Public Release:  The honeymoon's over: Consumers overestimate enjoyment of products

University of Chicago Press Journals

That fancy iPod or car with a sunroof might seem appealing when you're about to buy it, but chances are the enjoyment will be short-lived. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, enjoyment of products decreases over time, but people are not often aware of this process.

Authors Jing Wang (Singapore Management University), Nathan Novemsky, and Ravi Dhar (both Yale University), examine why predictions of future product enjoyment don't tend to match reality. "We show that consumers overestimate the long-term enjoyment from various products including toys, cars, stereos, iPods, and digital cameras when making a purchase decision, even though when asked directly, they seem to know that they will enjoy these products less over time," write the authors.

In one experiment, participants were asked to make a choice between two cars: a base model and the same care with a sunroof for an additional $900. "Before choosing a car, one group predicted how much they would enjoy the sunroof several months after purchase, while another predicted enjoyment at two points, both immediately after purchase and several months later, to simulate the progression of time," write the authors. "The latter group accurately expected their enjoyment of the sunroof to diminish over time, while the former group overestimated their enjoyment level for the sunroof several months after purchase."

It seems when people pay attention to how long they will use a product and think about the way their enjoyment will change over time, preferences shift from higher-priced items with extra features to cheaper, simpler options. In the sunroof study, only 26 percent of the participants who thought about their enjoyment over the duration of time wanted to buy the car with the sunroof, while 61 percent of the other participants said they would purchase it.

"These findings may help explain why people overspend on frivolous items or expensive extra product features whose enjoyment will be short-lived," the authors write.

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Jing Wang, Nathan Novemsky, and Ravi Dhar. "Anticipating Adaptation to Products." Journal of Consumer Research: August 2009.

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