What are you willing to pay for that dress that caught your eye in the department-store window? Or that sports car you admired on the dealers’ lot?
New research suggests the answer may depend on what the thermometer is registering.
In the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Israeli researchers offer evidence that people value products more highly when they’re feeling comfortably warm. They argue that “exposure to physical warmth activates the concept of emotional warmth,” producing positive emotions and increasing the items’ perceived worth.
The researchers, led by Yonat Zwebner of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, call this the “temperature-premium effect.” They demonstrate it in a series of experiments.
"Physical warmth induces emotional warmth, which generates greater positive reactions."
The first was a large-scale study that looked at more than six million clicks on a price-comparison website, each of which indicated the intention to purchase a specific product. The researchers looked at two years’ worth of data on eight categories of products (such as watches), and compared the decision to buy with the average temperature on each day.
They found “a significant positive effect of temperature on intention-to-purchase,” which persisted even after taking holidays and seasonal climate shifts into account. Looking at sales registered on the same day in two years (say, March 1, 2011, and March 1, 2012), they found the same pattern, with more sales on the warmer of the two days.
A second experiment featured 46 university students, who were randomly assigned to hold and examine either a warm or cool therapeutic pad for 10 seconds “under the guise of a product-evaluation task.” They were then shown two products—a slice of chocolate cake and a six-pack of batteries—after which they indicated “the maximum price they were willing to pay for each.”
Participants who held the warm pad were willing to pay significantly more for both products. The fact this effect extended to the batteries suggest this dynamic applies not only to immediate-gratification products, but also utilitarian ones.
For the third experiment, researchers manipulated the temperature in the room where the study was conducted, so it was either four degrees Celsius above or below the standard temperature of 22 degrees (72 degrees Fahrenheit).
The 109 participants, all university students, filled out a form for three to four minutes to acclimate to the environment. They then looked at 11 images of “different target products that college students typically consume,” and asked how much they were willing to pay for each.
Those in the warm room were willing to pay more for nine of the 11 products. Although participants rated the room as equally comfortable on the warm and cool settings, “ambient warm temperature increased product valuation over a cool temperature by 10.4 percent,” Zwebner and her colleagues report.
Further experiments confirmed these results and indicated a likely mechanism behind this dynamic: “Physical warmth induces emotional warmth, which generates greater positive reactions.”
So don’t be surprised if shop owners keep things nice and cozy this holiday season: It’s good for business. And if you’re prone to impulse buying, be especially careful on warm days. That product that seemed overpriced a few days earlier may suddenly look like a bargain.