"This research demonstrates that consumers tend to use the duration of a service as a basis for their evaluation of the service. Although consumers may understand that the duration of the service in itself does not determine its value, they tend to believe in a positive correlation between the two," Catherine W. M. Yeung, University of Singapore and Dilip Soman, University of Toronto said.
Taking from real world situations the researchers found that consumers evaluated the price of a lock-picking service as a better value when the service took longer than when the lock was picked faster.
When paired with price information, longer service periods were viewed more favourably than shorter service periods, even if the duration should have nothing to do with quality or if faster service might have been considered more efficient.
"We propose that consumers rely on the duration heuristic, judgment based on time, because it simplifies the evaluation process," Yeung and Soman said.
"In particular, the duration heuristic is most likely to be seen when the duration of the service experience is evaluable relative to other features and when duration is considered in relation to price," they said.
Significantly, the researchers found that when no price information was given, time was not a factor in consumer evaluations.
A consumer who does not know what to expect from a 60-minute physical training program would be unlikely to judge the program based on its duration.
However, introducing a dollar amount allows consumers to make a price-per-minute assessment and leads many consumers to prefer the longer session, even when there is no relation of it with time.
"Our position is that in general, the use of heuristics should not be regarded as irrational. . . . Human beings use heuristics because they are smart - they come up with shortcuts to simplify decisions that are less important so that they can spend more resources on decisions that are more important," Yeung and Soman said.
"Marketers who plan to improve the efficiency of their services should, therefore, make it very explicit to their customers that the shorter duration of their services is an effort to improve the efficiency of their services," they added.