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Say you’re researching a three-star hotel in Tuscany, and the doorbell rings. A new study to be published in the December Journal of Consumer Research suggests you’re more likely to book four-star digs—plus dinner reservations—when you return to your task. Interruptions “clear the mind,” changing the way buyers make decisions, says UCLA assistant marketing professor Wendy Liu, who studied how 656 participants made purchase choices for items ranging from rental cars to bed linens.
Those who were temporarily interrupted, she found, were more likely to shift their focus away from “bottom-up” details such as price. Instead they concentrated anew on their overall goal of getting satisfaction—such as the pleasure promised by a vacation or the comfort of the smoothest sheets—even if that meant paying more. The uninterrupted buyers remained more price-conscious.
For marketers, the message is enticing: Internet pop-up ads—or even a Web page that loads slowly—might enhance a sale. Liu says she’s experienced the interruption effect firsthand. Shopping for a new car some years ago, she first chose a bare-bones Honda Civic. Then the salesman left “to get the paperwork,” she says, and by the time he returned a half hour later, she had added “a bunch of options.”