When a consumer enters a mall, he’s aware that retailers are vying for his attention — and pocketbook — in a variety of obvious and subtle ways, all of which may cloud his judgment and bias his purchasing decisions. What he might not notice though, is the ambient temperature — a variable that could see him parting with more of his hard-earned dollars as the thermometer reading climbs.
Professor Leonard Lee, whose research often considers how emotional states and environmental factors influence consumer decisions and product valuation, wanted to determine whether temperature influences consumers’ intentions to purchase a product and how much they are willing to pay. Lee, along with Jacob Goldenberg of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, and Yonat Zwebner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, conducted five studies involving both laboratory experiments and real-world data from an online shopping website to explore the effect of temperature on purchasing decisions.
In the first study, the researchers analyzed consumer behavior on a price comparison website examining how daily temperatures affected purchase intention. They explored the impact of temperature by recording actual temperatures over a 24-month period and analyzed available data from eight product categories (such as watches). They found that warmer temperatures increased the probability that shoppers would buy a product, even after controlling for seasonality and factors specific to individual products, and despite the fact that shoppers were hunting for bargains.
In additional studies, participants in a lab setting were presented with various products and asked how much they were willing to pay for each. Participants sitting in a warm room (approximately 79 degrees Fahrenheit) were willing to pay significantly more — at least 10 percent — for a given product, compared to participants sitting in a cooler room (64 degrees Fahrenheit).
In the last study, a pen was placed in front of participants, who were asked to hold either a warm or cool therapeutic pad. Participants holding the warm pad were not only willing to pay 21 percent more for the pen than those who held the cool pad, they also estimated that the pen was physically closer to them.
The findings highlight the important connection between physical and emotional warmth and product valuation. “When people feel physical warmth, it activates the concept of emotional warmth,” says Lee. “Emotional warmth generates positive feelings, and, as a consequence, people actually place a higher value on a given product.”
This research offers insights for retailers and consumers about the ease with which environmental factors influence purchasing decisions. If a slightly warm, but still comfortable, shopping environment increases consumers’ product valuation, a retailer can easily optimize his store’s temperature and gain a potential 10 percent revenue premium. For consumers, the findings prove it pays — literally — to beware of their environment, particularly ambient temperature, while shopping. “If you don’t want to spend too much, maybe expose yourself to colder temperatures,” Lee says. “Be careful and be aware.”
Leonard Lee is an associate professor of marketing at Columbia Business School.
Read the Research
"The Temperature Premium: Warm Temperatures Increase Product Valuation"