A Discussion of &Quot;Time&Quot; Research


Robert B. Settle (1980) ,"A Discussion of &Quot;Time&Quot; Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 07, eds. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 448-450.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 7, 1980     Pages 448-450


Robert B. Settle, San Diego State University


The papers presented in this session all share a common theme. Each deals with some aspect of the use of time by consumers, yet their background, methods and content are very diverse. The differences among them make them very difficult to compare and contrast. Before each is discussed individually, a thumb-nail sketch of the different aspects of the role of time in consumption may facilitate comparison of the papers and reveal the location of their impact on the entire area of study.


Most experienced students of consumer behavior would, perhaps, agree that we need a better understanding of the role of time in the purchase and consumption of goods and services. A more adequate body of theory coupled with applicable empirical support would serve two fundamental purposes: (a) They would be useful to predict and to understand consumer behavior. (b) They would guide subsequent research and analysis in this important area of consumer activity.

Theoretical Requirements

Conceptualization in the area of time and the consumer is often weak or non-existent. There is no adequate general perspective or paradigm for the consideration of the role of time in purchase and consumption. The work that was done and is now being undertaken depends heavily on theories developed in economics, sociology or psychology. These various theories seldom articulate well with one another, nor do they often bear directly on the questions or phenomena that are the subject of inquiry.

Beneath the more comprehensive level of theory, there must develop a set of so-called "lower range" theories and concepts to guide research and analysis. Specific hypotheses that are empirically testable should spring from these ideas or concepts, so that the data that is obtained from research will translate into usable and communicable information.

Empirical Requirements

The actual research work relating to time and the consumer has hardly begun. The speed at which valuable data and research experience is acquired will depend heavily on the development of adequate measurement techniques. To this point, data acquisition has been impeded by a lack of both adequate methods and valid instruments of measurement. Much of the work done so far in this area has depended on secondary data that is seldom directly to the purpose and often imposes one or more serious limitations on the application of the data to the questions of interest. Coupled with this limitation is the sometimes singular or simplistic use of analysis techniques. The use of rather weak and impotent tools of analysis must often be excused because of the limitations imposed by the measurement technique or the use of secondary data.

Communicative Requirements

Clear lines of communication and dissemination are lacking for topics and projects relating to the many diverse aspects of time and the consumer. It is true that many of the existing media, such as journals and conference sessions and papers, have welcomed and even encouraged work in the area of time. This particular session is an example of that. At this point, the work in the area has not been inhibited by unavailability of channels of communication, but the requirement is still a real one. As more theoreticians and researchers turn to this area, more systematic and concentrated media will be needed to contain and consolidate the information. Lacking this development, both generation and application of knowledge in the area will be limited.


It is very difficult to "put handles" on the concept of time. It has been said that, if you want to know about the nature of water, the last creature you should ask is a fish. Maybe it is because we are all immersed in this nebulous substance that it becomes so difficult to describe or define. A survey of the perspectives that underlie research in the area of time and time consumption reveals three dominant modalities of treatment: Economic time, socio-cultural time, and psychological time. Each one has its own distinctive literature, approach, and even its own jargon. Some of the most salient aspects of each should be noted.

Economic Time

The study of economic time takes the perspective that time is a commodity. Work in this area seeks to measure the trade-offs and elasticities among time, possessions such as money or goods, and space in the form of distance or territorial area. The phrase, "Time is money," identifies this perspective and cites the possible trade-offs between time and possessions. The focus of study in this area relating to the purchase and consumption of goods often treats such things as the amount of search time a shopper might devote to one or more types of products or services. Identification of purchase priorities, frequency of purchase over time, and the time-line running through the purchase process are also topics within the context of economic time. These are, of course, only a few of the types of research projects that adopt the economic time perspective. The list is not intended to be exhaustive, only to set a general outline of examples of this approach.

Socio-Cultural Time

The study of time often focuses on the consumers perceptions and behavior patterns that have been acquired as a result of the socialization process. This work will often attempt to reveal systematic differences in the treatment of time among various cultures, sub-cultures or social strata. Various demographic categories are often revealed to behave differently in and toward time, or location on the social hierarchy may be associated with variations in the distance of the consumers' time horizons.

Another aspect of socio-cultural time relates to the effects of the passage of time on purchase and consumption patterns. Identification of life style transitions and typical consumption patterns for the various stages of the family life cycle fall loosely into this category because time is an independent variable that exerts influence directly or indirectly in either the long- or short-run.

Psychological Time

Because time is such an important aspect of life, consumers could be expected to incorporate into their psychological makeup many relatively durable predispositions and perspectives relative to it. To the extent that these differ significantly among individuals within any one socio-cultural dimension, they can be seen as constituting the psychological aspects of time. The emphasis here is on identification and understanding of the effects of these predispositions on individual consumers' purchase and consumption behavior.

The conceptual frameworks and empirical results in this area can be arrayed across a spectrum from those aspects that are immediate, environmentally determined and short-lived to those that constitute durable personality traits lasting for an entire lifetime. Early psychological research on time focused on differences in perception of time passage as a function of the type of experience and environment, such as pleasant or unpleasant tasks and in comfortable versus uncomfortable situations. More recently, some attention has turned toward the nature of individual values, attitudes and habits regarding time and their impact on behavior in and toward time. Recent research has also been devoted to the development of instruments to measure individual personality traits relating to perception and orientation in time. These psychological aspects of time are beginning to be shown to affect both purchase and consumption of products and services.


The various modes of perception and treatment of time could have a very wide range of effects on purchase and consumption of goods. Past and present attention and effort might be viewed as falling into one of three principal topic areas: (]) Effects on information dissemination, acquisition and processing. (2) Implications for buyer behavior or purchase actions and processes. (3) Influence on actual consumption patterns. These can be viewed as levels of impact, not in the sense of the strength of the relationship between time and consumer behavior or the importance of the contributions to understanding and marketing practice, but rather, as unique qualities of effect that differ in their locus of impact along the purchase/consumption spectrum.

Information Acquisition

Conceptualization and research on the value that consumers place on time versus information, on the amount of search time that might be devoted to goods of different types or prices, and on time spent on exposure to various media of communication, including social and personal influence, all fall into this category. In addition to these topics, some types of research on the time requirements of the adoption process and the diffusion of innovation also might be regarded as contributive to this area.

Purchase Behavior

Time almost certainly has much to do with the actual strategies and tactics of shopping for and buying products and services. Consumers can be seen to vary greatly in the amount of time they are willing or able to devote to the marketplace. Probably the selection of such things as optimizing versus satisfying strategies are significantly influenced by consumer time factors. The decision process might be elongated or truncated, depending on the circumstances of time, and can be seen to play a part in determining the degree of brand loyalty exhibited by buyers. Perceived risk and risk reduction strategies are subject to time requirements and availabilities Even post-purchase evaluations may be affected by consumer time. All of these aspects of time and other buyer behavior variables and their interrelationships fall within this particular area of impact.

Consumption Patterns

Both casual observation and personal experience indicate that time factors determine in part the consumption of goods. Consumers can "buy time" in the form of time-saving products and services. Availability of time directly affects leisure activity and consumption. Preferences for durable versus consumable goods and the "mix" of these types of consumption are likely affected by time perceptions and orientations. Certainly the fashion cycle, itself, is a reflection of the interaction between time and the need for novelty versus stability. Consumer behavior theories, models and studies comprehending these variable, along with many others of a similar nature, all find impact on this area of our understanding of consumer behavior.


The outline specified above, delineating some of the requirements, types of time variables and areas of impact, can be used to "position" the papers presented at this conference session, to reveal their relationships with one another, and perhaps to gauge tentatively a few of the papers' contributions and limitations. Each of the studies will be discussed in turn in relation to the three-dimensional outline.

Holman and Wilson Study

This paper deals most directly with the impact of time on purchase activity, as opposed to consumer information or actual consumption of goods. All four dependent variables in the analysis reflect actual shopping trips of one kind or another. The study deals primarily with "economic" time, since it implicitly views a trade-off between time spent in shopping activity and that available for other pursuits. Some aspects of what has been termed "socio-cultural" time are included in the sense that educational status and income are two of four independent measures used. Conceptualization takes the premise that consumers seek a balance between compulsory and discretionary time, implying some cognizance of "psychological" time, as well, but this aspect deserves little attention because of the highly tenuous assumption that the typical consumer would welcome any amount of compulsory time commitment if it could somehow be avoided. More likely we are studying various levels of tolerance for varying proportions of time to be devoted to compulsory activity.

Perhaps the major contribution of this study is to the demonstration and encouragement of multivariate statistical tools for analysis of data. Relationships among variables treated in univariate fashion in this study and in many before it did not prove to furnish much in the way of explanation or meaning, but when these were treated as a set and the interactions among independent variables measured for their effects on dependent variables, the results were enhanced markedly.

The major shortcoming of this study was the confinement to secondary data. Both dependent and independent variables were families of surrogates for the more refined and direct measures that could have been obtained if primary data had been collected. The use of such surrogates tends to constrict the generalization of the results, as well as attenuate the strength of the relationships that might be measured. In other words, surrogate variables made necessary by the use of existing data gathered for quite a different purpose work two ways; they get you coming and going. First, there are very likely several sources of variance existing between the surrogate and the actual factor being considered, and this variance is cast into the error term in the analysis, with a consequent diminishment in the indicator of a relationship. Second, even though the relationships may be significant and meaningful, there remains the question of whether the results can be generalized to the underlying factor or only to some particular aspect of the surrogate. In summary, it appears that both the major contribution and the major limitation of this study relate to the empirical requirements for research in this area, rather than to theoretical or communicative requirements.

Hendrix Study

This study is focused basically on the impact of time on consumption of goods and services. One of the seven activities included in the study was the procurement of goods and services, and in this respect, there is some bearing on consumer information and purchase activity, as well. The study purports to measure what was described above as "psychological" time, but that stipulation depends on the rather shaky assumption of a direct relationship between expressions of affect for specific tasks, on the one hand, and the subjective experience of time, on the other. In my own estimation, the time-related variables could best be seen as definitions of "economic" time because they deal with the cross-elasticities among time-consuming activities.

This paper, like the one before it, suffers from the use of secondary data, and in some respects, the work was more seriously hurt by the use of surrogate measures. By taking what was available and making the most of it, the research has contributed to the empirical base for understanding the nature of time factors. It provides a strong hint that subjective elements of time experience are relevant to consumer behavior. It does so in part by explicitly directing the readers' attention to subjective aspects, but also by revealing the deficiencies inherent in working with secondary data. The author is clearly well aware of the limitations and particularly candid about them in the discussion of process versus outcome benefits. Had the resources been available to conduct primary research on these topics, we can be quite sure that measures of affect for both process and outcome would have been included, and that refinement may have contributed much to the overall value of the study.

Hawes Study

The preparation and presentation of this paper is, in part, an effort to bridge the gap between those who develop and test the concepts of consumer behavior and those (people or activities) who communicate the results to students and practitioners of marketing. The summary reveals that the impact of time on consumption has received the most attention and inclusion in consumer behavior models, with the impact on purchase behavior taking a less significant place. Most typically, "economic" time has been considered by the model builders, with some attention directed toward socio-cultural time and little if any cognizance of psychological time manifested in the construction of models.

Because this study is a search and summary of the work of others, particularly those who construct and convey models to those engaged in the practice of the art, the contribution of the paper is, itself, largely in the "communicative" requirements area, as outlined above. An inclusive and articulate summary of the use of time factors and time-related variables in consumer behavior models, the work provides useful suggestions for the focus of effort in theory development and in empirical work. The author refrains from an assessment of the degree or currency of inclusion of research and data in the construction of models, nor does he evaluate the appropriateness or effectiveness of the use of time-related variables within the models. While it may have seemed presumptuous to him to do so, we might all have benefited from it, had he seen fit to stick his neck out so far.

General Comments

We have a long, long way to go, indeed. To evaluate these and the previously reported studies of time and the consumer in the light of what should and will be done makes about as much sense as pausing to assess the first few steps of a trip around the world. On the other hand, recognition of the importance of these initial efforts encourages some consideration of their value. The literature reviewed in the papers presented here clearly indicates that both those engaged in the study of time and those working on other aspects of consumer behavior recognize that time is a vitally important factor in understanding the consumer. In terms of the hierarchy of effects model, we are, perhaps, at the "interest" stage at this point.

Theoretical and conceptual work in this area are badly needed, particularly to guide those researchers new to this field of study, for these are precisely the ones most likely to have the sophisticated tools of analysis required to measure these illusive variables of time and to make sense out of the myriad of relationships and interactions. Without depreciating the value of industrious and intelligent empirical work, it seems accurate to observe that there is a very unhealthy tendency among us to applaud data collection and to frown on theorizing (unless the theoretician is aged and revered among us). Perhaps we all need to admit that there is nothing unholy about folding one's arms across one's chest, leaning back comfortably in one's chair, and thinking the whole thing through. Most certainly such work (and it is work), if clearly articulated and well promulgated, will result in more relevant and meaningful research in this area of time.



Robert B. Settle, San Diego State University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 07 | 1980

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