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Time Pressure & its Effect on Consumer Behaviour

Recently Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University, published a new article on the effect of time pressure on consumer behavior.

Commissioned by Think with Google, a marketing content arm of Google, the idea was to study the effect that time and stress has on the way a consumer makes his/her hotel bookings and decisions. The hypothesis is that consumers who use mobile devices to make hotel bookings are typically more under time pressure than those who make bookings from desktops or laptops.

As per Ariely, there is a certain phenomenon called the Narrowing Effect. The Narrowing Effect is a result of not having enough time to make a decision. To manage stress of the lack of time, we focus on the main task at hand and filter out everything else. This helps us to make a decision quickly, even though that may not be the best decision. The Narrowing Effect narrows the consumer’s focus, giving them only a brief moment to grab their attention and direct their choices.

How does all this relate to our device of choice and hotel bookings?

Dan Ariely uses an example to explain this.

“Let’s consider two scenarios of booking a hotel room. One involves Robert, who is on his mobile phone but not under any time pressure, and the other involves Tom, who is using mobile on the go and feeling time pressure.

Robert is sitting on his comfy couch at home. He knows he’s traveling on business next week and while watching TV and playing with his dog, he reaches for his phone to decide on a hotel.

“He has time while browsing to toggle back-and-forth among different hotel options, considering and contrasting the benefits of different hotels to weigh the convenience of location near his meeting versus the ability to earn hotel points at his preferred chain, with a guaranteed king-size bed, nonsmoking room—and also a gym.

Tom is also on his mobile phone and needs to book a hotel room, but he’s at the Denver airport. He had a late connection and just missed the last flight out for the night. He needs to book a hotel room for tonight! He’s hoping to get one of the last available hotel rooms while calling his wife to rearrange child care drop-offs for the morning, and postponing his next morning’s team meeting because he won’t be there in time.

Tom is experiencing one of the typical impacts of time pressure—the so-called “narrowing effect,” and as a consequence he pays attention only to the hotel’s proximity to the airport. He is more likely to focus on location and choose one of the first hotels he finds that fits his criteria.”

Obviously, there is a huge difference between our online behaviour on a laptop or a desktop versus on a mobile device.  It is quite common for users to use their mobiles instead of laptops for last minute decisions like Tom in the example given above.  

What does it mean for marketers?

Ariely says that brands and marketers should assume that most of the mobile users are most likely facing time pressure, vis-à-vis those who are booking or browsing via laptops.  In order to attract that particular set of customers, which is a pretty large number, marketers should point out their main offerings and brand attributes pretty clearly.

Brands need to figure out who their customer is and what is it that they’re looking for.  While booking on the fly, consumers are more likely to look for that one factor that matters the most to them like proximity, rate, shuttle service etc. instead of other attributes like restaurants, outdoor pool and spas. It’s imperative for marketers to suggest the criteria that potential customers might have and then direct her or her choices. Simply put, for an airport hotel, it would make more sense to have a consistent signature message in all its marketing efforts, like that of proximity, free parking, conference rooms etc. instead of talking about the various cuisines their coffee shop offers.

Ariely argues and hopes that brand building in this manner will definitely pay off when consumers are facing a time crunch. With mobile becoming the go-to device and people becoming busier with their lives, targeting and planning your marketing according to market segments has never been so important.

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