You will enjoy shopping more if this occurs, according to research

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Accomplishments often feel more rewarding and enjoyable if one had to really work and struggle to achieve that goal. Interestingly, a surprising new study finds that this same principle applies to shopping as well. 

Researchers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute just released a set of research concluding shoppers tend to value and appreciate difficult purchases more over time in comparison to easy shopping choices. 

To better understand exactly what’s being said here, imagine you’re out shopping for a new television. You’ve narrowed your options down to two TV sets. The first features packaging that’s clear, concise, and to the point; plainly and succinctly laying out all of the TV’s features and functions.

The other option’s packaging, on the other hand, is much more confusing. Many of the details are written in small, hard to read print, and much of the phrasing is vague and unclear.

According to the research team at RPI, you’ll feel better about your choice months and years down the line if you go with the second TV featuring more confusing packaging. 

Using more technical terminology for a moment, the research team says that disfluency (difficulty understanding a message on advertisements, packaging, etc) usually leads to a positive opinion of that message after a certain amount of time has passed.

For years and years, marketers and advertisers have been told to keep branding messages simple. The idea being the faster a consumer understands a product the quicker they’ll be to take out their wallet. These findings suggest that isn’t the best approach when it comes to long-term satisfaction.

“This research has a real-life impact,” explains study co-author Gaurav Jain, an assistant professor of marketing in the Lally School of Management, in a university release. “Most of the time, marketing communicators try to make their message clear. What we learned, however, is that there are certain times, especially when people need to make choices, when we should actually use disfluent stimuli so that whatever people are choosing, they will like it once time has passed.”

On a conscious level, most of us just want to get in the store, get our shopping done, and get out of there as soon as possible. Over time, though, this study indicates that it’s the hard, time-consuming shopping choices that we end up appreciating more in the long run. 

Perhaps it’s the accomplished feeling that one “earned” the purchase. “Sure, everybody else went with the easy buy, but I took some time and made a smarter choice.” We all want to believe that we’re smart consumers who buy quality products at the best possible prices, and going with the seemingly more complex product is one way to achieve that feeling.

Besides just feeling good about the purchase, people also tend to stay more committed to items or services they deliberated on for some time. At a certain point, these decisions become almost personal. For example, if you just spent four hours choosing a new computer, you’ll be less likely to give up on your new laptop at the first sign of a problem.

“When people are making decisions,” Jain says, “be it choosing between insurance products, retirement funds, or even when choosing an elected official, marketers and designers need to remember that if we can make an individual spend some time in that choosing process, it’s more likely people will stick with the option they chose over time.”

Jain also speculates that as a consumer’s opinion of their purchase improves over time, that individual will be more inclined to leave favorable reviews and less likely to make a return.

Data and responses from 500 different people were used for this research. It’s also worth noting that most study participants appeared to misremember many of their tougher shopping decisions. While recalling a touch choice, participants always chalked up all the time they spent deliberating on simply making the right decision, not as a result of complicated or unclear packaging.

That’s an important observation because it indicates consumers don’t appear to hold complex packaging or branding against companies in the long run at all. It also suggests people tend to look back on tough shopping decisions as being more informed than they may have been in reality. 

The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Marketing Communications.