There is a complex web of factors that go into deciding to make a purchase. Some of these factors can come from the subconscious mind without knowing there is an initial attraction to what ends up being purchased. We then consider information available such as company trustworthiness, customer experience, deals and sales, and more. Often enough, consumers throw all of that out the window and end up making irrational decisions based on emotions. One of the biggest factors that can lead to making that emotional or impulse purchase decision is time pressure.

Given more time to search, weigh all available information, and comparison shop, consumers will often purchase an item or service that has maximum positive benefits. They’ll choose the car with the built-in GPS system, the lightbulb guaranteed to last 7 years, or the healthy food for their kids’ school lunches. However, studies have proven that when constrained for time, consumers tend to choose products or services that fill only the basic requirement. In essence, time-pressured consumers choose to avoid a negative outcome rather than achieve the most desirable outcome. They’re just trying to get it done — not get it done right.

If you start birthday shopping for your spouse three weeks in advance, you have enough time to choose the perfect gift, make sure you’re not sacrificing quality, keeping costs down, and maybe even order it custom-made. With substantial time, you seek the most positive potential outcome. However, if shopping the day before your spouse’s birthday, you’ll seek only the minimum requirement: getting a gift at all or order to avoid the negative outcome of not having a gift when the day arrives.

time pressure

Behavioral economist, Dan Ariely frames the time pressure effect into mobile decision-making. He argues that since mobile shopping often means we’re browsing while on the go, it’s more affected by time pressure than shopping on a laptop or desktop. This is what Google calls micro-moments: purchase decisions affected by time pressure while on the move.

Groupon at its inception capitalized on the time pressure factor in its deals. The promotions advertised were only available for a short amount of time, a few hours to a few days, and with limited inventory (Only 50 left!). Their success came in large part due time pressure, with consumers not wanting the negative income of missing out on a restaurant, a special experience or a unique product, while choosing to take the deal without much research or planning ahead of time.

Think with Google presents research on how brands can win customer travel micro-moments, even with leisure travelers who tend to meticulously plan their vacations. The research shows that offering time-sensitive deals can turn a normally detail-oriented leisure traveler into a spontaneous one. In fact, using deals in micro-moments saw 30% of leisure travelers take a trip when they weren’t planning to, 25% go to a destination they were unfamiliar with, 25% consider booking a last-minute flight, and 32% book a hotel they were not familiar with.

Research published in the Journal of Consumer Research revealed a time-pressure study where sales pitches for tutoring services were sent out to hundreds of students during exam week and select the sales pitch that most resonated with them. One message exclaimed that exams were “only a week away” with the slogan “Don’t do poorly in any class!” The other less-hurried message said that the exams were “still a full week away” with the catchphrase “Ace every class!” The study proved that faced with a time constraint, students were more likely to choose the less ambitious, safer, time-pressured message. They wanted to make sure that their basic needs would be met that they wouldn’t do poorly in any class, not that they would “ace every class.”

Marketers should keep this in mind when pitching under time constraints. A chiropractor might stress the idea that the longer a patient waits to receive chiropractic services, the worse their condition might become. An oil change service might advertise that the consumer’s engine could be damaged if they don’t replace their oil soon. Real estate agents might convince buyers to purchase before they’re priced out of their desired neighborhood.

Remembering that consumers make different kinds of choices under time constraints is key to marketing to consumers who are under time pressure or who are experiencing micro-moments. Marketers can take advantage of the time pressure effect by taking into account the snap decisions consumers make while on the go or while squeezed for time.

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