Time goes by (not) so quickly! The perception of time and the consumer

Many magazines, academics, coaches and other (para) psychological professionals offer to teach us how to better manage our time. They promise we could stop losing time, maybe even win some time, enjoy every moment, slow down in our professional or personal lives. These promises mean a lot to us because we all feel that we lack of time, we run after time, it goes away so quickly… or not so quickly depending on the situation. Time is a pivot around which we organise our life, including our consumption.

The time of consumers

Understanding the subjective relation of consumers to time and to its behavioural consequences is a hot topic for marketing researchers. It has been for more than 25 years, with many contributions. To clarify this impressive amount of literature, Jeanne Lallement and Andrea Gourmelen (2018) provide a synthesis based on an extensive literature review of 198 articles published in marketing around the question of time. Their analysis isolates two perspectives: the (situational or individual) factors influencing the perception of duration (time as a resource); and individuals’ relationship to time (time as a personality trait).

Why does time go by so slowly?

Time is a resource for consumption. But while the time of the clock is the same for all, it might goes faster or more slowly for some of us. The context plays a fundamental part (for instance the music or the colours, particularly in a context of retail or other services, where the waiting time can be crucial). The words we use to talk about time also influence our perception, as well as the kind of activity we have (more or less dynamic, complex, routine, consistent, emotional…). Finally, the perception of time largely relates to one’s age, gender or culture. For instance, older women’s estimation of time tend to be less accurate.

What does that mean about our relationship to time?

Many of our consumption behaviours depend on our relationship to time. Our understanding of giving time to someone else (volunteering), our sense of being in a hurry (chronical temporal pressure), or the way we manage several things at the same time (polychronie), our link  with products from the past (second hand products) or the saving plans we set up for the future… these are all examples of situations in which time appears as a dimension of our personality, and of our own indeed.

Research on this personality trait can be organised into a continuum going from large to narrow relationship to time. Time can be analysed through a general approach, where it represents a “whole” (as in the temporal styles approach), in a comparative approach (categorising past, present or future oriented individuals), or in a more specific temporal dimension that is more anchored into the individual’s personality (for instance the propensity to nostalgia for the past, the polychronicity or the chronical temporal pressure in the present, or the anxiety in the future).

So in the end, how does this synthesis help you save time?

It gives you a complete overview of the elements you need to understand how consumers relate to time. It organises these elements around two dimensions that will help you identifying and choosing which variable to operationalise.

And now you know what you need to do: take some time to read the paper in Recherche et Applications en Marketing of course!

Lallement, J., & Gourmelen, A. (2018). The time of consumers: A review of researches and perspectives. Recherche et Applications en Marketing (English Edition), 33(4), 92-126.

Blog post adapted from Agnes Helme-Guizon’s

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