Consumers often face situations in which they can or have to make consumption decisions ahead of time. For example, they opt to visit stores such as Costco, which allows them to buy products in bulk. While they may be able to obtain discounts in exchange for bulk purchases, these choices mean that their future consumption experience in a given category (e.g., yogurt) is predetermined. Similarly, when moving to a new city, people may research and be able to know ahead of time what shopping, dining, and entertainment options they can look forward to in their new neighborhood.
A good deal is known about how such changes in consumers’ experiences can affect their perceptions of well-being, but much less is known about how the anticipation of future consumption in a particular domain influences the enjoyment of and satiation from similar experiences in the present.
While there may be situations in which consumers are aware of having access to a varied set of future consumption possibilities, there are other cases in which their future experiences in a given domain may be less prolific. For example, a consumer at Costco may buy a box with 24 units of strawberry yogurt. In this case, he knows that his future consumption experiences in this product category will be limited to one flavor. Alternatively, this same consumer may buy an equal-sized box of yogurts containing 6 different flavors. In this situation, he would know that future consumption experiences in this product category are going to be more varied.
We suggest that the anticipation of contrasting future consumption experiences can not only influence how much consumers enjoy the future experience but also plays a role in how much they enjoy and are satiated by their present experiences.
In our recent article “Anticipation of Future Variety Reduces Satiation from Current Experiences,” published in the Journal of Marketing Research, we investigate how knowing the level of variety we might have available to us in the future in a given product category influences our sense of satiation from a related consumption experience in the present.
We ran five laboratory controlled experiments involving real consumption situations associated with different senses: taste (food) and auditory (music). Study participants were randomly assigned to a low- or high-future-variety condition. Future variety was manipulated through a passage that let participants know about the items they would be consuming at a future time. Following the future variety manipulation, we administered the relevant stimulus—either food (e.g., jelly beans) or music—repeatedly. After each consumption episode, we asked the participants how much they enjoyed the item and how much they would like more of the target item. We were able to deduce satiation based on reported decline in enjoyment and desire to experience more.
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Across the five experiments and for both food and music consumption domains, we found that consumers satiate more slowly from a present consumption experience when they anticipate a future experience in the same domain that promises greater variety—in other words, with the promise of more variety, consumption experiences in the present can heighten the desire for more in the future.
However, there are two important boundary condition to this finding: The effect only occurs (1) when the present and the future consumption experiences belong to the same product category and (2) when the future consumption experience is at least as desirable as the present one. In fact, anticipating the consumption of a varied but less desirable item in the future may actually lead to less enjoyment of the present and a higher overall level of present satiation.
Interestingly, we found that this effect occurred because participants were able to imagine enacting their future consumption experience and incorporated these thoughts into their present consumption experience, which delayed their rate of satiation. This suggests that the effect is not simply due to an general activation of variety; rather, envisioning that the future consumption episode would actually take place was a necessary condition for the effect to occur.
To confirm that the delaying effect of anticipating future variety on satiation from a current experience was due to positive anticipatory thoughts associated with the future consumption experience, one of our experiments manipulated participants’ thoughts during the present experience. Specifically, we asked them to write a series of positive or negative anticipatory thoughts associated with the future experience, based on their condition. When we induced positive anticipatory thoughts, satiation in the present was delayed. However, when we induced negative anticipatory thoughts, satiation was accelerated.
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Implications for Consumers and Marketers
These findings hold important implications for consumers and marketers. Specifically, while consumers may exert a lot of effort thinking about what mix of products they should buy for the future, with the hope of maximizing their enjoyment of these experiences at the moment of consumption, they may be neglecting an equally important component of their overall utility from these purchases—namely, knowing how their future consumption in this domain can affect their enjoyment of present, related experiences.
These findings imply a certain irony: While many consumers will go out of their way to conceal a surprise for a significant other until the last possible moment, this strategy may not be the best way to maximize the recipient’s ultimate satisfaction from this gift. For example, withholding information about a surprise getaway vacation for someone’s spouse may deliver a thrilling moment for the recipient at the time of revelation, but it may prevent her from savoring this future consumption experience and incorporating this knowledge and excitement into her overall routine. The net result is an experience that may well be enjoyable, but is ultimately less satiating.
Marketers can also capitalize on these findings to manage the consumption experience and more effectively control product satiation. When offering products that will be consumed at a future time (e.g., a preconstruction condo, a vacation), enhance the appeal of your offering by letting consumers know about the benefits they will experience when the moment of consumption arrives, but also be sure to bring to their attention the utility in the present that they will provide as the consumers anticipate their future experience. This may be done, for example, by using advertising appeals that encourage them to imagine themselves enjoying the target item in the future.
Julio Sevilla, Jiao Zhang, and Barbara E. Kahn (2016), “Anticipation of Future Variety Reduces Satiation from Current Experiences,” Journal of Marketing Research, 53 (6), 954-968.
Julio Sevilla is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia (e-mail: email@example.com).
Jiao Zhang is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Lundquist College of Business, University of Oregon (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Barbara E. Kahn is Patty and Jay H. Baker Professor of Marketing, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (e-mail: email@example.com).