The Value of Consumers' Time: Interdisciplinary Understanding and Experimental Evidence of Situational Influences

ABSTRACT - The paper examines on a conceptual and empirical basis the value of consumers’ time. Based on an interdisciplinary literature review, five dimensions of time and the subjective and situational character of time value were derived. Laboratory experiments supported the hypothesis that situational effects, like in-process satisfaction, the available alternative activity and the length of duration, influence the value of time. The experiments showed that the common assumption of a generally applicable and constant value of time has to be rejected. Three factors are suggested as the main influential variables on the value of time (content, length, alternatives). Implications for the usage of time allocation models as well as for marketers were pointed out.


Sabine M. Schaeffer (2001) ,"The Value of Consumers' Time: Interdisciplinary Understanding and Experimental Evidence of Situational Influences", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Andrea Groeppel-Klien and Frank-Rudolf Esch, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 31-36.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2001      Pages 31-36


Sabine M. Schaeffer, Universitaet Bayreuth, Germany

[The DAAD (German research association) funded this study by a research grant in 1999. I would like to thank the reviewers for their insightful comments, which led to a substantial revision of the paper.]


The paper examines on a conceptual and empirical basis the value of consumers’ time. Based on an interdisciplinary literature review, five dimensions of time and the subjective and situational character of time value were derived. Laboratory experiments supported the hypothesis that situational effects, like in-process satisfaction, the available alternative activity and the length of duration, influence the value of time. The experiments showed that the common assumption of a generally applicable and constant value of time has to be rejected. Three factors are suggested as the main influential variables on the value of time (content, length, alternatives). Implications for the usage of time allocation models as well as for marketers were pointed out.


Every business transaction between a customer and a company can be described as a dynamic process, which takes up time. In order to purchase and consume products and services, customers are faced not only with a monetary but also a temporal investment. Human time is a scarce resource (Leclerc, Schmitt, and DubT 1995, Juster and Stafford 1991), limited to the life-span or e.g. to 24 hours a day, which customers allocate to various activities, like working, relaxation, necessities and leisure, including the use of products and services. The expenditure of money and time (Mincer 1963) can be seen as the crucial dimensions of consumption activities. Due to its scarcity, time has a value (Jacoby et al. 1976). The value of time particularly influences buying behavior. Depending on the time value, the temporal criteria of a good are more or less significant to customers’ choice and evaluation of goods. Especially for marketers it is important to recognize that they not only compete for consumers’ financial but also for their limited time-budget.

Research attention regarding time-phenomena (see Jacoby et al. 1976, Gross 1987, Hirschman 1987 for reviews) is widespread. Researchers from many disciplines including economics, sociology, psychology, marketing and consumer behavior, analyze time related customer behavior mostly stating the need for a better understanding of how time costs are actually perceived (Jacoby et al. 1976). But, despite the crucial influence on buying behavior the value of time is rarely analyzed explicitly. Decisions are affected by situational characteristics and Hornik (1982) suggests a strong affect of situational effects on time consumption. Overall research regarding situational influences on customer behavior is scarce.

The crucial relevance to buyer behavior and the lack of research findings, explain the motivation to give an interdisciplinary overview of the various concepts of time and time value as well as to carry out several experiments in order to investigate the effects of different situational variables on the value of customers’ time.


A very wide range of research areas, from classical economic research to marketing, from customer behavior to psychology, deal with time related aspects.

The Economical View

Economic models incorporate time mainly as an exogenous variable expanding from the past, over the present to the future (dynamic models). Neoclassical theories see consumption as an instantaneous act without temporal consequences" (Linder 1970, p. 7). Since the beginning of the 1960s a growing number of researchers (Stigler 1961, Mincer 1963, Becker 1965) include the necessary time expenditure of each consumption activity (e.g. information acquisition and use of products and services) into their models and theories. It is assumed that time as a fixed-supply resource possessing a certain value is allocated by individuals to maximize their utility. The value of time is inferred to be constant and measurable by forgone earnings. Most researchers aim to explain allocation of time with reference to labor supply, leisure and home production. Stigler (1961) is generally regarded as one of the first economists who explicitly incorporates the economic value of time into theory, especially regarding information search (Jacoby et al. 1976). Becker (1965), developed the first formal framework to analyze a household’s allocation of time for the competing pursuits of either working or consuming. As time devoted to home production cannot be used for gainful employment, Becker operationalized the value of consumption time by forgone income B the wage-rate per time unit B inferring that households can substitute time with money. Mincer (1963) is recognized as the first to introduce the idea that opportunity costs of time depend on their alternative use. Schary (1971) pointed out that the value of time may be concluded from the opportunity costs of foregone income or participation in other activities. Concentrating solely on the wage-rate is judged insufficient, since the decision for one activity means at the same time a decision against all others. As one of the first, he indicated that consumers’ value of time might, among other things, vary as a function of the situation. The value of time should therefore be operationalized by the utility of the available alternative activity and consequently depends on the actual situation. De Donnea (1972) developed a model to predict traveling behavior. Based on the model of Becker, this approach explicitly incorporates process utility. The time value of a saved time unit (e.g. due to faster traveling method) equals the financial price for the timesaving minus the increased process utility.

Among the home economists (for review see Gross 1987) Gronau (1972, 1977) was one of the first to apply economic time allocation theory to the study of intrafamily time decisions, the hypothesis being that the value of wives’ time increases with education and the existence of (younger) children. In short it is implied that the time allocation decision is not only influenced by the value of time measured by the wage-rate but also by individual preferences, which cannot be drawn from the model.

These examples (for review see Gonz├čles 1997) show that for economic modeling the value of time is an indispensable construct, assumed to influence time allocation decisions including consumption activities. From this it is inferred that the value of time can be seen as a constant parameter. In order to be able to use the wage-rate as an indicator for time’s scarcity and value, it is implied that all consumers’ time is traded at a market with the wage-rate as equilibrium.

The Behavioral Science View

The study of time in sociology is associated among other things with the identification of antecedents of perceived time scarcity and the description of patterns of time allocation decisions (for review see Gross 1987). Research focuses on the description of the way time is expended for various activities (Jacoby et al. 1976), concentrating on leisure time expenditures. Home economic research relevant to time has relied almost exclusively on time-budget studies (for review see Jacoby et al. 1976, Gross 1987), focusing on the time allocated to non-discretionary activities, primarily housework. The studies record the daily activities of households and the amount of time devoted to each activity. Number of household members, ages of the children, employment-state of the women and lifestyle trends were identified as influential factors.

Studies in the field of social and consumer psychology analyze behavior influenced by time to a great extent. Recognizing that time perception is subjective in nature (Fraisse 1975, 1984), the antecedents, e.g. personal and situational, consequences (e.g. on decision making) and related temporal experiences (e.g. time pressure) were analyzed. Although Jacoby et al. (1976) stated, "for any given consumer, time exists in limited and finite quantities. Hence, it has value" (Jacoby et al. 1976, p. 332), the value of time is rarely given explicit attention. One of the few exceptions is the study of Marmorstein et al. 1992 in the field of price-comparison shopping. They tested a model of subjective value of time based on Becker’s time allocation model introducing the perceived enjoyment of shopping as a new explanatory variable. Findings showed that the enjoyment of shopping as well as the normal and overtime wage-rate influence the value of time. One main contribution of psychological literature to customer behavior is the finding, that the passage of time can be experienced positively (e.g. holiday) or negatively (e.g. waiting-time).

Anthropologists found general support for the hypothesis, i.e. the value individuals place on time depends to a great extent on their socio-cultural background. In general, industrialized countries view time as a scarce resource and place a higher value on it than developing countries. The most recognized anthropologist in this area is Graham (1981) proposing three different socio-cultural groups regarding time perception; a linear-separable, circular-traditional, and procedural-traditional group.

The Marketing and Consumer Behavior View

Marketers generally recognize the increasing importance of time influencing consumer behavior. Even if the temporal dimension of purchasing and consumption has been a topic of interest since the 1950s relatively few empirical contributions appeared (Jacoby et al. 1976 for review). Major areas of interest relate to timesaving possibilities and convenience (e.g. Yale/Venkatesh 1986), time scarcity (Gross 1987), time pressure (Howard/Sheth (1969), e.g. Dhar/Nowlis 1999), waiting-time (e.g. Pruyn/Smidts 1998) and consumption time (Hirschman/Holbrook 1982). The time-value-concept is rarely a main focus of these studies. Downs (1961) proposed that customers try to minimize the basic costs of consumption money, time, and energy. The first formal treatment of time in the marketing literature was published by Schary 1971, who considered consumption as a production process with goods, services and other resources such as money and time as inputs. He suggested that the value consumers place on time is a meaningful basis for market segmentation. Nichols et al. (1971) assume that queuing raises the cost of acquiring a good and that two individuals with different time values face different waiting prices. Voss and Blackwell (1975) claim the value of additional leisure time to be equal to the forgone earnings plus the costs for the timesaving goods. More widely recognized was the idea of Hendrix et al. 1979, who proposed a model of time allocation to explain customer behavior based on anterior conditions like age, health, family life cycle as well as mediating factors like time allocation of others and social role. Time value was not included in the analyses. The time allocation model of Feldman/Hornik (1981) is one of the most comprehensive concepts to date. They assume that in addition to time and money treated as complements, time allocation decisions are influenced by several mediating factors like the value placed on time.


Overall the value of time is rarely included in customer behavior models or is treated as a mediating variable of low interest. The interdisciplinary analysis of the value of time revealed one major difference between the economic approach and the individual approaches of psychology, marketing and consumer behavior. The economic literature assumes the inter-subjective measurability of the value of time mostly using forgone income as opportunity cost for non-working activities. Consumer behavior oriented research defines the value of time as a subjective concept influenced by personal, socio-cultural and situational variables.


The meaning and content of time need to be examined to be able to use the concept of time value. The literature review has shown that the understanding of time differs widely. For consumer research the objective and subjective time dimension needs to be considered (Hornik 1984). Objective time is chronological, measurable by clocks and calendars. The time units are homogeneous, independent from the content and range continuously from the past to the future. Examples are the opening-hours of an amusement park from 9 to 9 or a holiday of one week. Two important questions for marketers can be derived: When does an activity take place (timing)? How long is an activity carried out (duration)? Time has also a subjective dimension, whereby three aspects need to be distinguished. First, objective timing is perceived subjectively (perceived timing). Second, objective time duration is estimated individually (estimated duration), which means that the estimation may or may not equal objective reality (e.g. waiting length). Third, individuals experience the passage of time subjectively (time experience). The time experience can be a positive (e.g. theater) or negative (e.g. dentist) one depending on the activity carried out.

The value of time is rarely defined and mostly not analyzed explicitly. Based on the definition of time, the following general characteristics need to be considered. This view is set apart from previous findings in four important points. First, the value of time is always related to a certain time duration. Second, the value of time depends on the time moment at which the time duration is available. Third, the objective moment and duration is subjectively perceived and estimated. And fourth, the time duration is experienced subjectively. As a consequence the value of time is a subjective and situational construct in several ways.

For marketing purposes it is interesting to measure the value of time. Time itself has no monetary value, since it is always there and cannot be traded. But time can be used to carry out activities and therefore a value can be placed on a time period, equaling the utility of available activities. The value of time can be measured with the concept of opportunity costs, since the decision for one activity means inevitably abstaining from another and sacrificing the utility of it. This alternative activity is the one with the highest utility available at a certain moment and with the available time duration. The value of time is higher the more attractive the alternative is and can equal zero if no alternative activity is available. The usual or overtime wage-rate can only be used if work is the available alternative. This shows, that the value of time depends on the situation, since the alternative activity differs from situation to situation.




The discussion showed that the value of time is a situational concept. Situational influences on consumer behavior are analyzed (for review Nicholls et al. 1996) from time to time (e.g. Park et al. 1989). Psychological literature concerning time stresses situational determinants (Jacoby et al. 1976), but the interdependence between situation and time related aspects is examined rarely (e.g. Hornik 1982). The highly cited situational categories of Belk (1974, 1975) include a temporal perspective, along with physical and social surroundings, as well as task definition and antecedent states, which mainly relates to the dimension of time duration. Regarding the subjective estimation of a time duration and perceived time pressure the influence of situational factors, like stress, inactivity or waiting, are analyzed more often (Gross 1987 for review). The time pressure concept is of particular importance in this context. Customers facing time pressure feel that there is not enough time to perform all desired purchasing and consumption acts (Howard / Sheth 1969), which means that alternative activities with high subjective utility exist. Therefore, it can be stated that time pressure increases the value of time.

To shed some light onto the situational influence factors on time value, an exploratory study has been undertaken. To the best of the author's knowledge, the following situational influences on the value of time were not studied explicitly so far.


Design Study

Objectives. The objective of the study is to analyze the effects of situational variables on the value of time and to show that a generally applicable and constant time value cannot be assumed. The influence of satisfaction with the actual transaction (in-process satisfaction), time pressure and the attractiveness of the alternative activity as well as the length of duration on the value of time were tested.

Design. For the laboratory experiments one independent variable was manipulated and two related role-playing scenarios were developed. The scenarios were independently and randomly addressed to the respondents. Response time was app. 10 minutes.

Dependent variable. The measurement of time value is not without its difficulties as respondents have problems quantifying directly the value of time ("How much is your time worth?"). E.g. efforts to quantify the value of search time have not been successful (Srinivasan et al. 1990). Therefore an indirect measure is needed. In the context of travel time, timesavings were often measured by the willingness-to-pay for reduced travel time (Walsh et a. 1990). Furthermore Jacoby et al. 1976 pointed out that consumers place a monetary value on their time, e.g. customers pay a higher price to get a timely benefit, like a faster service delivery. Therefore the value of time is operationalized with the willingness-to-pay construct, which means that the participants were asked to indicate how much they would be willing to pay in a certain situation to save time.

The sample. With the aim of controlling as many situational and personal characteristics influencing time value as possible, no real-life situations (e.g. contaminated by respondents' mood, wage-rate etc.) were chosen. This was also the procedure followed by Marmorstein et al. (1992) when testing the influence of selected variables on consumers' subjective value of time. Aspiring to control as many of the personal characteristics as possible as well as to be able to present realistic and easily imaginable scenarios for all participants, a homogeneous group of respondents (students from one study area) was chosen as respondents. The reason for the selection of MBA students was that they are used to think in time and money-dimensions and are able to quantify their willingness-to-pay. All experiments were undertaken at the Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, USA. [Special thanks go to Roland T. Rust who enabled my research stay at the Owen Graduate School of Management as well as the faculty for allowing me to collect the data at the beginning of their lessons.] All chosen students participated voluntarily and no incentives were given. A three-step data gathering process was carried out to test the hypotheses. 42, 95 and 70 students participated, e.g. overall 207 answers were given. The average age was 30 years, 24% of the respondents were women, 60% North Americans, 19% Asians, 9% Europeans and others.




Customer Satisfaction. The experience of a transaction (e.g. a service encounter) influences customer behavior (e.g. reselling and word-of-mouth) as well as the value of time. In service and customer behavior literature, the evaluation of a business transaction is measured by the satisfaction construct (Oliver 1997). For example customers may enjoy shopping (Hornik 1984), which means that it is not only a pure loss of time. The proposition is, that in-process satisfaction (dissatisfaction) will lead to a lower (higher) value of time, e.g. unexplained and long waiting periods lead to stress and anger in customers' perception, adding psychological costs and increasing time value. To test the situational influence of satisfaction with a service encounter, a role-playing scenario was developed and presented to the respondents. In Experiment I (all scenarios are described in a shortened version) participants imagined that they had to go to a clinic for several treatments for a whole day. They were very satisfied (dissatisfied) with the clinic and the whole process so far. Nevertheless the responsible doctor was late for the last test and a waiting period of 30 minutes occurred. The clinic management had recently introduced a new customer loyalty program and offered rewards for waiting-times to their patients. The participants were asked openly how much they would consider a fair reward for their waiting-time. The hypothesis "the expected financial reward for 30 minutes waiting-time is significantly higher for unsatisfied compared to satisfied customers" was tested. The scenarios were randomly assigned to 95 students.

One participant indicated a $500 reward for a 30-minute wait, which was 5 times as much as everybody else. A significant difference in the expected financial reward occurred. Satisfied customers expected in average $21,44; dissatisfied customers $59,41, which is nearly three times as much.

The hypothesis that the variance and means of both groups are equal can be rejected at a significance level of 0,01% supporting in turn the research hypothesis that in-process satisfaction during a transaction has a significant influence on the value of time.

Alternative Activities. As theoretically derived the value of time depends on the alternative activity determining the opportunity costs of an endeavor. The general proposition is, that the more attractive the available alternative activity is at a certain moment, the higher the value of time will be. The concept of time pressure can be used to model the perception of different alternative activities. If a customer is under time pressure, he/she wishes to carry out other activities with a high utility as well. The hypothesis is that an increasingly perceived time pressure results in a rising time value. In Experiment 2 the participants were faced with a situation being on the way to a very important job interview. They had to buy some medicine at a drugstore before the interview and had to wait in line (for 5 minutes). The drugstore offered an express line, where nobody was waiting, but an additional serving fee would be charged. In one scenario the participants were late (the job interview representing the alternative activity) and in the other scenario they were not (the alternative here was going to the interview without rush). The participants were asked, if they were willing to pay $5 to get served straight away. The hypothesis "significantly more people are willing to pay $5 to save a 5 minute wait if they were under time pressure compared to the situation where they were not in such a hurry" was tested.

The scenarios were randomly assigned to 42 MBA students. Under time pressure 85,7% were willing to pay $5 to save 5 minutes equaling a time value of $1 per minute, compared to 23,8% without. The data scale is nominal and non-parametrical tests were used. First the binominal dispersion was tested and for both scenarios a significant difference (p<0.03) between the yes and no answers were found. Second a Chi-Square test was performed testing if the perceived counts of one scenario equal the perceived counts of the other. Both tests clearly proved the differences not randomly but significant (p<0.00). The research hypothesis that the attractiveness of the alternative activity has a major influence on the perceived time value is strongly supported.

These results could be verified in Experiment 3, in which the participants were asked to imagine to be on the way to a very important job interview and there was no other possibility than going by train. Two trains were available, standard and express, latter reducing traveling time by 30 minutes. All other features equal, the students were either asked to indicate how much they would be willing to pay for the express train, if they were in a hurry (scenario 1) or not (scenario 2). The hypothesis "customers are willing to pay significantly more to save 30 minutes of traveling time, if they could use their time for a subjectively more important activity (the job interview) compared to a less important activity (waiting)" was tested. Once again the scenarios were randomly assigned to 95 MBA students. After excluding four extreme outliners from the analysis, the following results reveal:



The average time value for participants being on time was $0.45 compared to $1.83 representing an increase of 407%. Because of the rational scale of the answers (and the assumption that they were normally distributed), the students= t-test was used to test the hypothesis that both variances were equal. At a significance level of p<0.00 this hypothesis can be rejected as well as the hypothesis that both means were equal. This provides very strong support to the research hypothesis, that willingness-to-pay differs between the scenarios, which leads to the conclusion, that the availability of a subjectively important alternative increases the value of time.

Length of Duration. A basic assumption of nearly all time allocation models is, that the value of time stays constant for each time unit (e.g. one minute), which means that the value of time is a linear function of time. This assumption was tested in Experiment 4, where the participants were asked to imagine a situation wanting to purchase a pair of tickets for a show at the performing arts center. Arriving at the ticket counter he/she realized that the student window would not open for 15 (30) minutes. As the window for regular tickets was already open the participant had to decide whether to buy the tickets at the regular price now or to wait. The respondents were asked to fix the amount they were willing to pay. The hypothesis "customers are willing to pay significantly more to save a waiting period of 30 minutes compared to 15 minutes. The average time price for 30 minutes doubles the average time price for 15 minutes" was tested. The scenarios were randomly assigned to 70 MBA students.

In order to analyze the interdependence, it was tested, if both scenarios had equal variances and means. Using students’ t-test this assumption can be rejected at a significance level of p<0.00 for both. The first part of the research hypothesis can be confirmed. In a second step, comparing the average time values the mean time value for 15 minutes was $2, which equals a price per minute of $0.13. The mean for 30 minutes was $8.24, which equals a price per minute of $0.27. This is nearly twice as much. The results indicate that the assumption of a linear time value is not valid for a waiting situation and the length of the perceived time duration influence the value of time.

Summary. The experiments showed, that in-process satisfaction, the attractiveness of the alternative activity as well as the length of duration influence the value of time.

Limitations of the study. The research approach followed here bears several limitations due to the usage of laboratory experiments and only students as participants.


Within the theoretical part of this paper the different views and understandings of time and the value of time in the economic, behavioral, marketing and customer behavior literature are presented. The five different dimensions of time, objective timing and duration as well as subjectively perceived timing, individual estimation of duration and time experience are explained. Within the empirical part of the paper the influence of selected situational variables on the value of time is examined. Due to little knowledge in this area, explanatory laboratory experiments were undertaken. These experiments were able to show that

+ in-process satisfaction

+ time pressure and the attractiveness of an alternative activity, as well as

+ the length of duration

influence the value of time. The experiments demonstrate that the common assumption of a generally applicable and constant value of time has to be rejected. The value of time is a situational construct. Despite the limitations of this kind of research, it is strongly believed that a reliable tendency can be drawn from the results. Therefore the following factors are suggested as the main influential variables on the value of time:

+ the content (What are you doing?)

+ the length (How long are you doing it?) as well as

+ the alternatives (What could you have done?).

One consequence out of these results is, that researchers and marketers should carefully use time allocation models assuming a universal and constant time value. The value of time is not a linear function of time.

Marketers need to consider the value of consumer’s time additionally in three important ways. First, the value of time influences buying behavior, because customers compare the perceived overall price of competing products and services. The overall price consists of the financial price and the value of time. Customers’ willingness-to-pay depends additionally on their subjective value of time. A continuously growing importance of temporal aspects will lead among other things to an increased influence of the value of time on buying behavior. Second, the factors influencing the value of time need to be managed. Process management (e.g. waiting lines) determines the objective length of activities (e.g. service transactions). And perceptions management (e.g. information given) influences the perceived content as well as the perceived duration. Third, marketers can use different time values of consumers for market segmentation. The management of time value offers the possibility to differentiate from competitors and to establish a competitive advantage.

This piece of research can only shed some light on this yet under-considered area. E.g. further research is needed to determine the influence of situational factors in real-life situations, as well as the influence of personal and socio-cultural characteristics alone and combined.


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Sabine M. Schaeffer, Universitaet Bayreuth, Germany


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2001

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