Research News

Sticker shock: How price awareness can curb consumer enjoyment

Close-up of man's hand placing price signs on vegetable market display

Everyone has experienced the unpleasant shock of a high price tag before buying something. But it turns out that price can have an impact on consumer perceptions even after a purchase is made.

The presence of pricing information during consumption accelerates “satiation,” according to new research by Kelly Haws, associate professor of marketing at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management. In other words, enjoyment of a product or experience declines faster when consumers are aware of the price.

“Being reminded of the price makes the experience less relaxing,” said Haws, lead author of the study, which will appear in the July issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology. “This is due to the fact that we tend to evaluate the experience more critically when it’s associated with money.”

Kelly Haws
Kelly Haws (Vanderbilt University)

In one study, participants selected five songs online and heard them each three times in a random order—some with accompanying information on the artist and title, some with information on artist, title and price. Participants rated the songs on a scale of 1-100 after each listening. All groups reported diminishing enjoyment with each additional listening, but groups subjected to pricing information reported significantly lower ratings after the final round.

These findings were consistent in a second study, where some participants were provided information on the songs’ popularity rather than price.

“The negative effect of pricing only emerged over time, not at the beginning,” Haws said.

The researchers identified the same trend in their third study, which had participants retrieve M&Ms from a vending machine five times and rate their enjoyment after each portion. Once again, enjoyment diminished more rapidly in price-aware groups, which needed to insert coins that were provided in order to dispense the candy each time. The participants’ assessments further suggested that price information “may trigger a deeper evaluation and financial monitoring of the experience (versus just a relaxing break),” thereby accelerating satiation, according to the authors.

The study’s findings have potential implications for marketers seeking to prolong enjoyment of products, as well as consumers looking to curb particular behaviors such as eating unhealthy food or buying products and services that stretch or break their budgets.

“One could certainly argue that from a perspective of curbing overconsumption of junk food, our findings suggest making the price more salient might be helpful,” the authors wrote. “However, in general, consumers and marketers alike fight the effects of decreasing enjoyment in keeping consumers engaged with their products and experiences. Our work suggests that separating price from the experience could help both consumers (through more extended enjoyment of what they choose to consume) and firms (through preventing consumer burn-out and switching away from the firm’s products).”

The article, titled “The Satiating Effect of Pricing: The Influence of Price on Enjoyment over Time,” was co-authored with Haws by Brent McFerran of Simon Frasier University and Joseph P. Redden of the University of Minnesota.

Media Inquiries:

Ryan Underwood
Vanderbilt University News and Communications

Nate Luce
Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management