Consumer Behaviour
• 4 minute read

Will Waiting Make You More Patient?

Dai, Xianchi(戴先熾)

For most people, the process of waiting is a pain. It often induces impatience and irritation. However, a research study by CUHK Business School suggests that waiting can actually make people more patient

A study conducted by Prof. Dai Xianchi at the Department of Marketing of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School, and his collaborator Prof. Ayelet Fishbach at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, finds that when people have to wait before making a decision, they are actually more likely to make a “wiser” choice — waiting for a larger reward later instead of obtaining a smaller reward sooner.

The researchers designed five experiments to test their hypothesis. In one of the experiments, they examined whether a waiting period increases the subjects’ preference for a later-but-larger reward over a sooner-but-smaller reward. 84 undergraduate students were invited to participate in an online study in return for an opportunity to win a monetary reward. These participants were equally divided into three groups, with each group having to wait for a different amount of time to receive their potential prizes.

In the first group, the participants could choose to win $50 in three days or $55 in 23 days. In the second group, the participants could choose to win $50 in 30 days or $55 in 50 days. In the third group, the participants could also choose to win $50 in 30 days or $55 in 50 days, but they were asked to wait before making a choice. The researchers then contacted the participants in the third group 27 days later to ask what they would choose. At that point, these participants needed to make a decision between choosing to win $50 in three days or $55 in 23 days–the same options as those in the first group.

The results of the experiment show that 31 percent of the participants in the first group chose to wait for the $55 in 23 days. In the second group, nearly 56 percent of the participants chose to get the $55 in 50 days, i.e., the later-but-larger reward. In the third group, as many as 86 percent of the participants chose to win the $55, after having waited for 27 days to make a decision. These results clearly demonstrate that waiting can actually increase people’s patience.

“The longer people have to wait, the more valuable they would perceive the option they have chosen, and that higher value would then make people more patient.” – Prof. Dai Xianchi

Self-Perception Matters

Why was the result so different from our common-sense belief that waiting makes people more impatient? According to Prof. Dai, this is because people value certain things more if they have to wait for them. “Some studies have proven such a psychological process,” he says. “If the experience for people to get certain things is hard, people would see more value in these things, compared with the easy-to-get case.”

Prof. Dai further explains that it has to do with the concept of self-perception, in which people would infer the strength of their attitudes and preferences by observing their own behavior.

“In the context of waiting to make a decision, the longer people have to wait, the more valuable they would perceive the option they have chosen,” he says. “And that higher value would then make people more patient. In short, waiting increases the perceived value of the long-awaited items, which in turn affects patience.”

According to Prof. Dai, researchers in the field previously believed that the process of waiting is costly and that most of its effects are negative, so people would like to get instant gratification instead of waiting for a later-but-larger option. This study is the first- ever that reveals the positive effect of waiting through experiments.

“The study actually sends out a very important message to policymakers, particularly marketers, that the higher the waiting cost is, the stronger the preference people would attach to the awaited item,” Prof. Dai adds.

Implications for Policymakers

Understanding such consumer psychology and behavior, companies can employ the “Hunger Marketing” strategy by tantalizing consumers’ appetite through limiting the product supply and making people more willing to wait for the product until it is available.

For marketers who would like to leverage the positive effect of waiting to influence the consumers’ preference, Prof. Dai suggests that they try to incorporate a real or perceived waiting period into purchasing choices, like the marketing tactic that Apple has been using—launching the products first while withholding its availability until a later date. Apple always throws a big press event for its product launches, so that their potential consumers and the media would know something important is about to happen. As soon as the product announcements are made, potential customers will be lining up in droves, eager to get the latest products. At that point, it then offers pre-ordering service that makes people wait for the products, which in turn whets consumers’ appetite.

“We believe a waiting period is one variable that should be taken into account when designing a purchasing option,” Prof. Dai says.


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