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Better to Go Together or Not? Having Clarity About a Partner’s Interests Helps

Better to Go Together or Not? Having Clarity About a Partner’s Interests Helps

Nuket Serin and Sphurti Sewak

Assume you are going to an art exhibition with friends. You are very much looking forward to it; however, you are unsure how interested your friends are in attending. Do you think you would enjoy visiting an art exhibition more on your own? Do you think your degree of enjoyment would be affected by the lack of clarity about your friends’ interests? For experience goods and services, understanding consumers’ enjoyment level is important because the lack of enjoyment can cause the negative word of mouth, negative referrals, and a decline in repurchase intention, leading to a negative impact on the company’s bottom line performance.

Individuals’ experiences when seeing movies in theaters, viewing art performances, or attending sporting events are most commonly shared with companions. Indeed, approximately 70% of U.S. consumers prefer attending these activities in the company of others. However, do all shared consumption experiences increase the individual’s enjoyment of the experience? The answer to this question might be “no” in some cases, according to a recent Journal of Marketing Research article. Wu, Hamilton, Kim, and Ratner investigate the conditions under which consumers enjoy shared experiences more than solo ones. The authors define shared experiences as “activities that two or more people have opted to participate in together simultaneously.” Prior research has indicated that shared consumption experiences increase enjoyment by fulfilling the individual’s desire for a sense of belonging, providing social connectivity, boosting perceived status, and increasing enjoyment when there is a congruence of opinions. Wu et al. extend this literature by investigating how a consumer’s uncertainty about their partner’s interest in shared leisure activities impacts their perceptions of the experience. The logic is that individuals strive to grasp their partner’s preferences during navigation decisions (e.g., pacing, sequencing, interacting), and as a result, they are too preoccupied to adequately concentrate on the activity, leading to decreased enjoyment. Throughout five main studies and three Web Appendix studies, including an art gallery–based field study, the authors also discovered that the effect is mitigated if the partners have low requirements for navigation. The effect can also be mitigated when activities are more purpose-driven than enjoyment-driven, because the clarity of the partner’s interest level will not be as much of a consideration.

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This research has important managerial implications, in that it can assist marketers in gaining valuable insights from shared consumption experiences. For instance, managers of museums or art galleries may offer guided tours for visitors, which can eliminate the necessity for navigation decisions. Likewise, managers may also urge consumers to share their interests with their partners before beginning their experiential activity. Moreover, managers would benefit from promoting solo experiences to their customers when it is more difficult to gauge their partner’s degree of interest.

Our talk with the authors about their article provides some very interesting insights and perspectives. Read on to learn more.

Q: This research shows that shared consumption decreases enjoyment when there is a lack of clarity on the partner’s interest. These are really interesting and contradictory results from prior literature on this topic. What led you to posit these research questions? Was it from personal experience or identifying the gap in the existing literature?

A: This research was inspired by a personal experience: a trip to an art museum with an old family friend whom Dr. Ratner had not seen for a long time resulted in a less enjoyable experience because they were not able to catch up or enjoy the art as well as expected. This spurred the thinking that experiencing something solo can make one focus more on the actual experience. This article is complementary to previous research that investigates simple consumption experiences guided by the experimenters in the lab, it goes further by focusing on a much more complex set of events regarding navigating the experience.

Q: Study 4 [the field study] was very interesting; how easy/difficult was it to manage the logistics? What would be your recommendations for doctoral students conducting field studies, given that there are many factors that come into play?

A: It took a long time to convince and collaborate with the manager of the art gallery where Study 4 was carried out. The study was conducted over two weeks, and it was a lot of hard work, but the results were very rewarding. We saw that people enjoyed the experience more when they had clarity about their partner’s preference. In a nutshell, although field studies do take a lot of investment of time and energy, they are definitely doable. One challenge that we encountered while conducting the field studies (one of which is in the main text of the paper and the other in the Web Appendix) was managing each participant to ensure that everything was consistent. As a recommendation to doctoral students, it is very important to be persistent in convincing other people to collaborate with you for your project. One thing that helped was that the art galleries we collaborated with were in some way associated with one of our universities. Conducting the field studies assured us that the effects were very real because we could see and witness what our article was proposing, so they are a great compliment to the lab experiments. Also, readers and reviewers gravitate toward field studies since it gives them a sense of the effects holding in the real world, making the research findings even more impactful.

Q: Do you think gender would play a part in the enjoyment of shared experiences? What are your thoughts?

A: Most of our pairs were same-gender pairs, and therefore, we did not have many mixed-gender dyads. Most of the dyads were friends and not involved in a romantic relationship. In our studies, we did not see any role of gender, but it would be interesting to see if people in a romantic relationship will behave similarly or differently than those who are just friends. We were surprised to see, across studies, consistency with which people were concerned about other’s experiences. There was one study we conducted on MTurk that did not make it in the paper: the participants were asked to choose songs for another person from their favorites and were given an idea about the other person’s choices. Even in that study, with participants being strangers to each other, most people were sensitive to the other person’s choices. So our big takeaway is that people’s own choices and enjoyment are impacted by their perception of the other person’s preferences.

Q: Do you think that one’s cultural identity might affect the results of your study? For instance, given that individualistic cultures are more self-oriented and collectivistic cultures are more group/community-oriented, do you think that the enjoyment level would be different regardless of the clarity level between those two cultures? What would be your predictions?

A: We tested individualistic and collectivistic mindsets directly in one of our previous research papers published in 2015, where we studied participants in the United States, China, and India. However, we did not find differences across cultures in people’s willingness to participate in activities alone. Assimilating those findings here, there may be even less difference in this case. It is interesting to see how much these effects emerge even in individualistic cultures, but we expect to see even a stronger effect in a collectivistic culture.

Q: Do you predict that the presence of the pandemic would change the results now that the opportunities for shared experiences are more limited?

A: Many activities we studied are activities that people could participate in even during the pandemic. We only looked at shared experiences with just one other person or a couple of people, and not experiences where groups of people would be with the crowds (like a concert). Also, if someone was to go to a concert or baseball game with another person after a year and a half of the pandemic, there would be even less clarity about how much the person would want to focus on the content of the experience as well as catching up with the other person. We predict, if anything, it will heighten our effect.

Q: What additional key takeaways for marketers and consumers do you have from this research?

A: Our recommendations in the article are very easy to implement for marketers looking to increase their consumer’s enjoyment. In our studies, we saw that even a brief discussion about a partner’s clarity led to increased enjoyment. We also found downstream consequences of this increased enjoyment led to a greater likelihood of spreading positive word of mouth. This finding can be helpful for both marketers and consumers.

We would also like to add that we had a lot of fun working together and it was a lot of work. It was a meaningful project since we were dealing with a problem consumers commonly encounter during their experiences in the marketplace. Finally, a note for doctoral students: keep in mind that one should not expect a publication within just two years of starting a project; it took us six years for this project to get accepted, and it was a dedicated effort throughout the process.

Read the full article here:

Yuechen Wu, Rebecca W. Hamilton, Nicole Yeu Jeung Kim, Rebecca K. Ratner  (2021), “Navigating Shared Consumption Experiences: Clarity About a Partner’s Interests Increases Enjoyment,” Journal of Marketing Research, 58 (3), 439–55.

Nuket Serin is a doctoral student at Florida International University

Sphurti Sewak is a marketing doctoral student at Florida International University