The Effect of Positive Anticipatory Utility on Product Pre-Order Evaluations and Choices

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Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science

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Given the increase in marketers’ use of pre-ordering strategies in which product sales precede the product’s delivery, this research presents a systematic set of four studies exploring how increasing positive anticipatory utility impacts consumers’ pre-order evaluations. The authors propose that compared to price discounts, non-monetary promotions that enhance positive anticipation will be more effective in reducing consumers’ negative responses to longer temporal delays for pre-orders. Findings show that affect-laden marketing tools (e.g., free products, products positioned as hedonically superior, creating anticipatory buzz) attenuate the negative effects due to pre-order temporal delays. Findings also indicate positive anticipatory utility is the underlying mechanism for the observed effects. The research provides guidance regarding the strategic presentation of pre-order promotions; when the time for product delivery is longer, marketers should use various tools that increase positive anticipation to reduce the negative effects of temporal delays.

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The retail consumer product market recently has seen a significant increase in the use of the promotional strategy in which sales of a product precede the date in which the product becomes available to consumers. For example, two weeks before the official launch date, almost one million consumers had pre-ordered the Apple Watch (Thielman, 2015; Tilley, 2015). Pre-order offers often include either monetary promotions (e.g., 30% off the $39.99 price on Final Fantasy Ultimania) or non-monetary promotions, such as free products (e.g., Free Gear Virtual Reality with pre-order of the Samsung Galaxy S7). Additionally, marketplace observations show that the length of the temporal delay varies significantly between pre-ordering and actual receipt of the product as well as the specific types of associated sales promotions used (Broida, 2014). Considering these differences in temporal delays that consumers incur contrasts with a greater preference for immediate outcomes. It is not clear when a consumer would willingly choose to pre-order a product “now” that they know will not be delivered until a later date and what type of promotion will be most effective in reducing the negative effects of delays.

Waiting for an event is often an aversive feeling and prior literature has emphasized individuals are biased towards immediate consumption (Frederick et al., 2002). However, when the anticipation of the future event is favorable and exciting, it leads to a positive utility called savoring (Loewenstein, 1987). To initially address the pattern and magnitude of effects of temporal delays for pre-ordering, we draw upon positive anticipatory utility theory (Chun et al., 2017; Hardisty & Weber, 2020; Loewenstein, 1987). This theory indicates that when a potentially positive future event can induce pleasure and excitement, it can push against an individual’s impatience for immediate gratification (Kumar et al., 2014). Hence, in the context of product pre-orders, any mechanism that increases positive anticipatory utility can enhance the likelihood of pre-ordering a product that consumers know will not be delivered until a later future date.

We add to this body of literature by testing managerially actionable tools that will increase positive anticipatory utility for product pre-orders (Hardisty & Weber, 2020). We conduct four experimental studies, using a mix of controlled online experiments (Studies 1, 2, and 3) and a retail store field experiment (Study 4), to demonstrate the boundary conditions and underlying process, and present a meta-analysis of the findings across the studies. Findings across the studies offer several novel insights for advertisers and marketing managers. For example, our findings indicate that consumers are willing to wait longer for products when they have affect-laden promotions, such as free gifts, rather than equivalent price discounts. This happens because free gifts increase positive anticipatory utility, leading to positive downstream outcomes. Findings also indicate that hedonically superior products increase positive anticipatory utility, encouraging more pre-orders. Additionally, results indicate that directly manipulating positive anticipation through expressive product buzz also can lead to increased pre-order evaluations.

Our findings also provide novel theoretical contributions. First, we examine how affect-laden promotions can induce positive anticipatory utility, leading to favorable pre-order outcomes. Prior research has primarily focused on the effects of positive anticipatory utility on post-purchase consumption, both ongoing and remembered enjoyment (Chun et al., 2017). This is the first research that examines the effect of positive anticipatory utility on purchase decisions prior to the product’s availability (i.e., a pre-order). This is particularly important because the present research shows that the utility derived from anticipation can influence whether a consumer will respond positively to a pre-order opportunity. Finally, we provide insights into the effectiveness of product positioning and sales promotions on generating positive anticipation, adding to the substantive domain of promotions by examining consumer evaluations and choices when faced with temporal delays.


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