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How Payday Affects Consumer Purchases

People’s buying patterns fluctuate, depending on when their paycheck arrives.

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Title: Detecting Deceptive Discussions in Conference Calls (Subscription or fee required.)

Authors: Himanshu Mishra (University of Utah), Arul Mishra (University of Utah), and Dhananjay Nayakankuppam (University of Iowa)

Publisher: Journal of Marketing, vol. 74, no. 5

Date Published: September 2010

This study finds a direct relationship between when people get paid and their buying behavior. Contrary to previously held beliefs that consumers’ purchasing preferences remain relatively stable over time, the proximity to payday actually changes customers’ motives, their response to advertising messages, and, in turn, what they buy.

Consumers who have just been paid are more likely to purchase “promotion-focused” products and services, which they perceive will boost their quality of life, even in a minor way, according to the authors. However, as customers move further away from payday, they turn to products that are “prevention-focused,” to maintain their current standard of living. Think of the difference between buying a breakfast cereal that tastes great (a promotion-focused buy) and one that is healthy (a prevention-focused buy). The authors cite numerous other examples: Sunscreen lotion that protects the skin from ultraviolet rays would be a prevention-focused purchase, whereas sunscreen that gives skin a smooth, robust appearance would be a promotion-focused item. Moreover, the authors found that results were not linked to differences in product prices — items in the same category were equal in cost — or fluctuations in customers’ bank accounts.

The researchers conducted two different experiments to arrive at their conclusions. In the first, 61 participants with full-time jobs were asked to keep track of their purchases for a month, listing their buying choices as things they either “aspired” or “ought” to have. In the second study, 152 similar participants were asked to choose between a series of products that were identically priced; for snacks, they chose between chocolate cake (promotion-focused) and fruit salad (prevention-focused). To increase the reality, some participants actually received their chosen products, so they could in effect experience the consequences of their choices.

The authors suggest several ways marketers could apply these findings. For starters, heavily promoted product launches should occur early in the month, when many consumers have just been paid. And advertising should be adjusted at different times of the month depending on the appeal of the product; for example, a promotion-focused whitening toothpaste should be given bigger play around typical paydays than a prevention-focused cavity-fighting brand, which might be peddled more frequently a week or so later.

Bottom Line:
Right after payday, customers will opt for products that give them a short-term boost to quality of life, but as the last check fades from memory, they will turn to necessary products that preserve their status quo.

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