How Consumer Behavior is Influenced by the Time

Everyone enjoys a bit of variety in their life, but research has shown that this preference is not necessarily consistent throughout the day. This impact many businesses, especially those who are promoting their own varieties or even launching new products. Let's explore what the research says on this topic.

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What did the research find?

In one experiment, researchers analyzed millions of supermarket purchases and found that the same households bought less variety in the morning than in the afternoon. Subsequent experiments found similar behaviors in everything from choosing daily activities to picking out colors of office supplies.

What do consumers want? Similarity in the morning. Variety in the afternoon.

What could cause this behavior?

People’s acceptance for stimulation changes throughout the day based on their body’s natural rhythm. Across four experiments, researchers found evidence that the time of day can impact how much variety consumers will accept. This holds particular relevance for businesses in properly timing their marketing messages.

How could you apply this?

There are a number of implications across businesses ranging from retail to healthcare

Marketing focused on variety, such as promoting different activities that a cruise ship offers, are likely to be more effective in the afternoon or evening. The same is true for new product introductions. Mornings should stay focused on elements that consumers are the most accustomed to.

The research paper extends this idea beyond advertising, including applications in simplified breakfast menus to less variety on morning radio programs. Click here to read for an interview with co-author Jonah Burger via Knowledge@Wharton. It’s well worth your time!

Kelley Gullo, Jonah Berger, Jordan Etkin, Bryan Bollinger, Does Time of Day Affect Variety-Seeking?, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 46, Issue 1, June 2019, Pages 20–35