The value of anticipation in business

Many of us are enjoying, or recently enjoyed, a public holiday long weekend. Part of the magic of such holidays is the anticipation of them – they are something to look forward to.

That goes for the regular week too, with people preferring Friday to Sunday, even through it’s a work day for most of us, because we get to savour the possibilities.

Anticipation has value

It turns out anticipation has value, and making customers wait may not necessarily be a bad thing. It certainly doesn’t seem to have hurt Apple.

Researchers from Cornell University and the University of California were interested in whether the anticipation of making a purchase changed people’s level of happiness, and whether this was different for experiences and material possessions.

Over a series of four studies they found that when people were asked about making an experiential purchase (e.g. ski passes or concert tickets), they reported higher levels of happiness, more pleasantness and more excitement in relation to the purchase than those who were thinking about a material purchase (e.g. clothing and laptops).

As the researchers noted: “Consumers derive value from anticipation, and that value tends to be greater for experiential than for material purchases”. 

Lessons for your business

According to this study there’s something to be said for allowing your customer to savour the anticipation of their purchase, particularly if you are selling an experience.

But think about how you do it.

Good now, even better later

Short-term bias means that people love instant gratification, so we need to strike a balance between providing immediate reward and fuelling anticipation. How? Gratify your customer’s purchase decision in the immediate term even though they won’t experience the benefits of the actual purchase until later. That means providing a fancy voucher, receipt or ‘congratulatory’ email now, which will only add to their excitement about what they’re getting down the track.

Provide a count down

Build the anticipation by helping your customer count down to the big day. This could include texts, letters or emails that show that you are as excited about it as them.

Don’t try their patience

Don’t mistake anticipation, a positive form of tension, with frustration, a very negative form of tension. Delaying delivery because it suits you rather than your customer is unlikely to build positive sentiment.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.


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