March 5, 2019
As consumers, we tend to choose small, immediate gains over bigger future rewards, and this may be more likely when we are focused on the passage of time itself.
When consumers view displays that are organized horizontally versus vertically, they have a heightened desire for immediate rather than long-term rewards. Why? Specifically, when we see horizontal (vs.versus vertical) displays, we focus more on how long the wait time will last, which makes the wait time seem even longer. When this happens, we are more likely to choose immediate gratification over smarter, longer- term options.
It may seem like a stretch that Einstein’s theory of space and time would have a relevant connection to the world of finance. But Adam Craig, now in his sixth year of professorship at the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics, recognized the potential connection between space and time and our future time-related judgments and decisions. Since thinking about time durations make the durations seem longer, he and his research team examined whether displaying time-related decisions (an Amazon delivery, for example) horizontally or vertically could lead people to think about time delays differently, and ultimately influence decisions. His paper, “How the Spatial Representation of Time Influences Intertemporal Choices”, (co-authored with Marisabel Romero of Colorado State University and Anand Kumar of University of South Florida), examines this idea in detail.
Craig, an assistant professor of marketing, wanted to test whether spatial cues impact intertemporal decisions (the process by which people make decisions about what and how much they want at various points in time when outcomes available “now” are smaller than outcomes available sometime in the future). He discovered that horizontal temporal displays, such as a 2-day or 5-day shipping choice on Amazon, with options side-by-side, enhance the amount of attention customers give to waiting, when compared to their vertical counterparts. The project was inspired by the team’s curiosity about how the arrangement of financial information could affect the way that consumers spend and save.
“We tend to think of our financial decisions as simply being about the numbers, but our results show that how the information is presented to us as consumers impacts how we use it,” he explained.
He believes that this work can apply to consumers across several industries. For instance, businesses designing promotions on their websites can use this research to help consumers become more patient and choose better outcomes. On a site like Amazon.com, consumers are more likely to choose faster delivery, even when they’re offered a financial reward for receiving their package just a couple of days later. This could happen less if the retailer organizes the delivery options vertically instead of horizontally. Retail managers can also use these findings to structure options in a way that promotes long-term rewards for consumers.
In addition, individuals working in financial service industries can harness these results to help consumers save earlier and save more. For instance, their results show that consumers were willing to save and invest 2% more towards retirement after they saw an ad depicting individuals at both young and old ages organized in a vertical orientation. An additional 2% savings rate towards retirement may yield significant increases in retirement allocations over the course of 30 years.
And for consumers trying to shop and spend smarter, Craig advises, “When time delays are involved, paying attention to the money may be the smarter decision.”
How the Spatial Representation of Time Influences Intertemporal Choices
Adam Craig, Marisabel Romero, Anand Kumar
Association for Consumer Research