How Experience Variety Shapes Postpurchase Product Evaluation

Jordan Etkin and Aner Sela
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Key Takeaways
Perceiving product usage experiences as less varied improves postpurchase evaluation.

When there is less variety among a product’s usage experiences, those experiences are perceived to occur more frequently (and thus, people think they use the product more often).

People get utility from thinking they use a product frequently, so by reducing perceived usage frequency, more varied product usage experiences reduce postpurchase evaluation.

Article Snapshots: Executive Summaries from the Journal of Marketing Research​

Across many different products and usage scenarios, we found the same result: when people perceived more variety among a product's usage situations, they liked the product less.

“Contrary to the idea that variety increases product liking, perceiving usage experiences as less – not more – varied can improve postpurchase product evaluation.”

“Contrary to marketers’ intuition, highlighting less varied (or even the same) usage experiences may increase how positively consumers evaluate the products that they buy.”


 Research

Consumers often use the same product in a variety of situations. A pair of sneakers we bought to wear to the gym, for instance, we might also wear to run errands or to do chores around the house. A backpack we bought to carry things to work we might also use for hiking or traveling. How might this “usage creep” affect our opinions of those products? Will we like the sneakers or backpack better for using it in a greater variety of situations? Or might this instead prove detrimental to product evaluation?

Intuitively, using a product in a greater variety of situations seems like it would enhance postpurchase evaluation. Variety offers benefits like reducing boredom and keeping things stimulating and interesting, and we know from previous research that consumers often seek out variety in their consumption experiences. We wondered, however, whether this specific aspect of variety – “experience variety,” or the variety among ways consumers use a product – might actually not be beneficial. In particular, we thought that perceiving more variety among product usage experiences might undermine usage frequency judgements. Consumers infer value by comparing the total benefits of using a product to its acquisition cost; the more times a product is used, the greater the total benefit, which improves postpurchase evaluation. We suspected that greater experience variety would reduce how often consumers think they use a product, and as a result, would detract from postpurchase evaluation.

We tested the hypothesis that less – not more – variety among product usage experiences enhances how much consumers like the product by increasing perceived usage frequency and that these effects would have positive consequence for postpurchase satisfaction, repurchase intentions, and willingness to favorably recommend the product.

Method

5 studies conducted with a wide range of U.S. consumers tested our hypotheses. In these studies, we asked participants to recall a recent purchase and then either measured or manipulated the perceived variety among usage experiences with that purchase. We tested the impact of these variety perceptions on product liking, postpurchase satisfaction, repurchase intentions, and willingness to recommend the product.


 

Findings

Across a broad range of products and product usage experiences, we consistently found that perceiving usage experiences as less – not more – varied can improve postpurchase product evaluation. This occurred because less varied increased how frequently consumers thought they used a product. By increasing perceived usage frequency, less varied usage experiences improved postpurchase product evaluation, postpurchase satisfaction, intentions to repurchase the product, and willingness to recommend the product to another person. Furthermore, factors that weakened the positive link between usage frequency and postpurchase evaluation attenuated the effects.


 

Implications

This research uncovers a surprising, seemingly irrelevant factor that influences how much people like the products that we buy. More than just the quality of a product, or how well it meets our needs or fits with our preferences, the variety of situations in which we use the product can influence how much we like it (and whether we buy it again or recommend it to others). For particularly special or beloved products, strategically reducing the variety (or at least the perceived variety) among the product’s usage experiences may help protect its evaluation.

Firms often solicit postpurchase feedback from consumers by prompting them to reflect on prior usage experiences with a product. Our findings suggest that encouraging consumers to think of their experiences as more diverse, even something subtle like “Think about the different experiences you have had with this product,” may inadvertently lead people to perceive less frequent usage and consequently like the product less. Similarly, portraying usage experiences as less unique and more repetitive in commercials and advertisements may – perhaps counterintuitively – lead current users to perceive more frequent usage, increasing their loyalty and repeat purchase behavior.

The findings also suggest how marketers might modify their offerings to influence consumers’ adoption and abandonment decisions. If two brands in a new product category are perceived as visually similar to one another (e.g., Toyota Prius and Honda Insight), this should make that new product category (i.e., hybrid cars) seem more abundant or frequent. By making the product seem more prevalent, this could help facilitate diffusion at the early stages of the product life cycle. Conversely, emphasizing how products differ from others in the category may help decrease their perceived abundance, slowing the rate of abandonment in mature product life-cycle stages.


Questions for the Classroom

  1. How can marketers encourage consumers to think that they use a product frequently?
  2. Holding constant the quality of usage experiences, what else can marketers do to increase postpurchase satisfaction?
  3. When do consumers desire more (vs. less) variety in their consumption experiences? How can marketers best provide that variety?​


Full Article

Jordan Etkin and Aner Sela (2016), “How Experience Variety Shapes Postpurchase Product Evaluation,” Journal of Marketing Research, 53 (1), 77-90.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jmr.14.0175​


J
ordan Etkin is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Fuqua School of Business, Duke University (e-mail: jordan.etkin@duke.edu).



Aner Sela is John I. Williams Jr. Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Florida (e-mail: aner.sela@ufl.edu).


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Jordan Etkin and Aner Sela
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