Recent Studies of Time in Consumer Behavior

Ziv Carmon, University of California at Berkeley
ABSTRACT - This paper summarizes the special session "New Directions in Time Research in Consumer Behavior." Four papers were presented in the session:
[ to cite ]:
Ziv Carmon (1991) ,"Recent Studies of Time in Consumer Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 703-705.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 703-705


Ziv Carmon, University of California at Berkeley

[I would like to thank Eric Johnson for volunteering his wit and wisdom as the session's discussant.]


This paper summarizes the special session "New Directions in Time Research in Consumer Behavior." Four papers were presented in the session:

"The Effects of Visual Cues on Consumers' Preferences for Single and Multiple Queuing Systems" (Bernd Schmitt, Columbia University; Laurette Dube, University of Montreal; and France Leclerc, Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

"Situational Determinants of Consumers' Dissatisfaction with Waiting" (Ziv Carmon, University of California at Berkeley).

"Contextual Issues in Time Perception and Orientation" (Jacob Hornik, Tel-Aviv University).

"Preferences Toward Temporally Separated Outcome Sequences" (George Loewenstein, Carnegie Mellon University; and Drazen Prelec, Harvard University).

The session reviewed recent developments in time research, focusing on three interrelated topics: perception of time (Hornik), consumers' preferences and attitudes towards queues (Carmon, and Schmitt, Dube and Leclerc) and intertemporal choice (Loewenstein and Prelec). We briefly consider time research and its relationship to consumer behavior. A summary of the papers follows.


Many people seem to be increasingly pressed for time in spite of the evolving leisure society in the U.S. Consequently, there is an intensifying awareness of the temporal expenditures that are involved in purchase situations (Schary 1971). It is predicted that this trend will continue, and the consumer of the nineties will be more concerned than ever with temporal expenditures (see, for example, Miller 1988). Hence, it is surprising that although consumers typically spend both time and money to acquire goods and services, monetary expenditures have been studied extensively, while temporal expenditures received relatively little attention.

The dimension of time has played a major function in several research disciplines that are closely related to consumer behavior. The role of time has been particularly emphasized in economics (e.g., Stigler 1961, and Becker 1965), sociology (e.g., De Grazia 1961, Robinson 1967, and Hall and Schroeder 1970), operations research (e.g., Erlang 1917, Little 1961, and Buffa 1983), and psychology (e.g., Gulliksen 1927, and Fraisse 1963, 1984).

The importance of time as a major variable of interest to consumer behavior theory had already been recognized in the early stages of consumer research (Nicosia 1966, Howard and Sheth 1969, and Engel et al. 1973). Over the past twenty years, several research streams concerning time have evolved within the consumer behavior literature. These included the effects of time pressure on consumer decision making (e.g., Howard and Sheth 1969, Wright 1974, and Johnson and Payne 1985), people's allocation of their time (e.g., Marby 1970, Feldman and Hornik 1981, and Holbrook and Lehmann 1981), and perception of time (e.g., Hornik 1984, Feinberg and Smith 1989, Dube-Rioux et al. 1989, and Carmon 1990). Several interdisciplinary reviews also appeared in the marketing literature (e.g., Jacoby et al. 1976, Feldman and Hornik 1981, and Gross 1987).

Recently, there has been a growing interest in time related research, focusing primarily on three interrelated topics: preferences and attitudes towards queues, time perception, and intertemporal judgement and choice. Accordingly, the papers presented in the session represent these three topics.


Operations Research has dominated both research and applications related to queues. For decades, researchers in this field have studied queuing systems and methods for improving their efficiency. This research has advanced our understanding of the relationship between characteristics of queuing systems (e.g., service rate, customers' arrival rate and number of servers in the system) and their performance (e.g., average queue length and average waiting time per customer). Although it has led to substantial improvements in the service consumers received, this approach has been rather narrow as it focused exclusively on physical aspects of the queuing system. In taking this perspective, O.R. has failed to consider other perceptual factors that may affect consumers' attitudes and preferences regarding queues. The first two papers (Carmon, and Schmitt, Dube and Leclerc) address this issue. Both papers examine contextual factors that affect consumers' perceptions of queuing systems, demonstrating the potential contribution of consumer research in this area when a psychological framework is applied.

Carmon considers factors that affect consumers' attitudes toward the time they spend waiting for service. Within the context of his studies, he shows that providing information about the expected waiting duration or about the causes of the delay, can reduce dissatisfaction with waiting whether or not this information can lead to alternative utilization of the time. Moreover, what may appear to be minor differences in the format in which the information is provided, affect its impact on consumers' satisfaction. He also shows that the dis/satisfaction depends on consumers' prior expectations. However, contrary to the common interpretation of Prospect Theory, in the case of temporal expenditures, gains loom larger than losses. Finally, subjects' dissatisfaction with waiting is affected by the availability of alternative activities while waiting, as well as by the value of the service. He concludes by examining possible reasons for the effectiveness of these factors and proposing applications of the findings.

Schmitt, Dube and Leclerc investigate whether consumers prefer single queuing lines or multiple lines when they wait for services. More specifically, they focus on the effect of visual cues on consumers' preferences for queuing systems. Normative theories in Operations Research seem to suggest that consumers should prefer single lines since these theories predict that, on average, the waiting time in single waiting lines will be shorter. This prediction was contrasted with the fact that people often employ visual cues in their duration estimates (e.g., the longer the line, the longer the service time) which would favor a system with multiple lines. It was found that when subjects, who were familiar with O.R. queuing theories, examined a visual representation of these queuing systems, they preferred systems with multiple lines over single line systems. These subjects also estimated single line systems to have shorter waiting times relative to systems with multiple lines, based on the visual cue. However, when they were asked to consider which one they thought was better, in the absence of the visual cue, they chose single line systems over systems with multiple lines.


People are frequently influenced by situational conditions when making judgements about time (see for example Fraisse 1963, 1984). Indeed, recent research has demonstrated that certain momentary conditions, like mood, play a critical role in the process of time use and allocation. Little attention has been paid, however, to the way in which a consumer's affective state alters his or her evaluation of time and temporal orientation (-- the relative dominance of the past, present or future in a person's thoughts).

Hornik presents studies on the influence of different mood states on the way people estimate the duration of recent events as well as on their stated temporal orientation. He suggests that positive and negative emotions result in underestimation and overestimation of duration, respectively. He further suggests that people in a positive mood tend to be future oriented, while people in a negative mood have more of a present orientation. Two experiments using two different mood-inducing manipulations support his suggestions revealing strong mood effects on subjects' time perception and orientation.


Another time related research topic which is currently receiving considerable attention is intertemporal choice, a term that refers to decisions concerning cases in which costs and benefits are spread over time. Understanding choice between sequences of temporally separated outcomes is important because most intertemporal decision making involves choices between sequences, rather than between simple outcomes. Choices involving activities that take up time -- e.g., school, work, vacations, eating chores -- always involve choosing between sequences since single events cannot generally be rescheduled without changing the timing of other activities.

Additively separable formulations of intertemporal choice, such as the discounted utility (DU) model, imply that the overall value of a sequence can be determined directly from the values of its component prospects. Loewenstein and Prelec suggest that consumers' choice patterns can be explained by the operation of two motives not incorporated in conventional models: a preference for improvement over time and a desire to spread outcomes over time. The authors present a model of intertemporal choice applicable to sequences, discuss experiments designed to test the model and compare its explanatory power to that of the DU model.

They demonstrate that an individual's valuation of a complex outcome sequence may not be well predicted by his valuation of the component outcomes. Although most people do discount simple prospects in a conventional manner, their choices between sequences reveal surprising patterns that are not compatible with conventional discounting. For example, they find a common tendency to prefer sequences that are back- rather than front-loaded, and a desire for U-shaped sequences which provide high levels of utility up front and at the end.


The objective of the session was to focus attention on the major role of time in consumer behavior theory. In spite of the major role of this construct, to date it has clearly been under-studied. The richness of issues that can be investigated and the wide variety of approaches that can be taken to studying time-related issues were demonstrated. Hopefully, the research presented in this session as well as additional current time related research (e.g., Varey and Kahneman 1990, Ross and Simonson 1990, Goodwin and Smith 1990, and Hui and Bateson 1990) will motivate much needed, further research on time in consumer behavior.


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