Changing Consumer Behavior with Upgrades

Marketers are often trying to sell new products to their existing customers. In this lesson, we discuss how to positioning products as upgrades, instead of mere replacements, can be optimized and how consumer behavior with previous purchases can change as a result.

On-Going Efforts
Useful for All Industries

What did the research find?

Consumers try to make the most of their purchases. They use protective cases on their iPhones and dry clean their delicate sweaters. One study even found consumers will slow their shampoo usage when the bottle is half empty rather than full.

However, researchers have also found that this cautious behavior is abandoned when an appealing, improved product is available. Customers interested in the upgrade begin to act more carelessly with their current possessions – all to justify that new purchase.

Where was this behavior found?

The “upgrade effect” persists across numerous product categories from durable goods to hedonic – toothpastes, coffee mugs, perfumes, shampoos and sunglasses. This particular research also looked at individual iPhones and how often consumers tried to find their lost devices when an upgraded phone was made available.

How could you apply this?

To start, you must have an enhanced version of the product instead of a mere replacement. A new and improved product formula, such as Colgate toothpaste with better whitening agent, is one approach. Make explicit comparisons about newly upgraded features or styles to simplify the evaluation process with consumers.

Next, help to reduce guilt of early replacements by launching products alongside offers to donate or recycle previous versions. This was studied in the paper with positive results.

Planned obsolescence (degrading performance over time, placing prominent expiration dates) can help consumers but carry risks. It’s easier to highlight ways in which their current product may no longer be sufficient for their needs. In one study, drawing attention to aesthetic damage was enough justification to clear the path for a replacement.


Bellezza, Silvia, Joshua M. Ackerman, and Francesca Gino. "'Be Careless with That!' Availability of Product Upgrades Increases Cavalier Behavior Toward Possessions." Journal of Marketing Research (JMR) 54, no. 5 (October 2017): 768–784.