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Satisfaction derived from manual chores hinders certain product uptake
By our News Team | 2023
Products that remove the need for seemingly mindless household tasks should be a winner. But researchers find there are provisos to this.
‘Smart’ products that eliminate the boring, repetitive tasks of our everyday lives are surely always going to be a winner with consumers? Why else have we embraced everything from dishwashers to washing machines?
But it seems there may be caveats to this. Researchers from University of St. Gallen in Switzerland and Columbia Business School in the US have published a new peer-reviewed Journal of Marketing article that examines how the perceived meaning of manual labour can help predict the adoption of autonomous products.
Perhaps surprisingly, some consumers will resist the automation of repetitive chores – such as vacuum cleaning. Image by Roman Ivanyshyn from Pixabay
Whether it is cleaning homes or mowing lawns, consumers increasingly delegate manual tasks to autonomous products. These gadgets operate without human oversight and free consumers from mundane chores.
However, anecdotal evidence suggests that people feel a sense of satisfaction when they complete household chores.
This new research shows that, despite unquestionable benefits such as gains in efficiency and convenience, autonomous products strip away a source of meaning in life. As a result, some consumers are hesitant to buy them.
The researchers argue that manual labour is an important source of meaning in life. This is in line with research showing that everyday tasks have value – chores such as cleaning may not make us happy, but they add meaning.
As researcher Emanuel de Bellis explains: “Our studies show that ‘meaning of manual labour’ causes consumers to reject autonomous products. For example, these consumers have a more negative attitude toward autonomous products and are also more prone to believe in the disadvantages of autonomous products relative to their advantages.”
Highlight alternative sources of ‘meaning of life’
Adds fellow researcher Venkataramani Johar: “We suggest that companies highlight so-called alternative sources of meaning in life, which should reduce consumers’ need to derive meaning specifically from manual tasks. Highlighting other sources of meaning, such as through family or hobbies, at the time of the adoption decision should counteract the negative effect on autonomous product adoption.”
The research team says their study demonstrates that the perceived meaning of manual labour (MML) – a novel concept introduced by the team – is key to predicting the adoption of autonomous products.
Researcher Nicola Poletti notes that consumers with a high MML tend to resist the delegation of manual tasks to autonomous products, irrespective of whether these tasks are central to one’s identity or not. Marketers can, therefore, start by segmenting consumers into high and low MML consumers.
Unlike other personality variables that can only be reliably measured using complex psychometric scales, the extent of consumers’ MML might be assessed simply by observing their behavioural characteristics – such as whether they tend to do the dishes by hand, whether they prefer a manual car transmission, or what type of activities and hobbies they pursue.
Activities like woodworking, cookery, painting and fishing are likely predictors of high MML. Similarly, companies can measure ‘likes’ on social media for specific activities and hobbies that involve manual labour.
Finally, practitioners can ask consumers to rate the degree to which manual versus cognitive tasks are meaningful to them. Having segmented consumers according to their MML, marketers can better target and focus their messages and efforts.
In promotional campaigns, businesses can highlight the meaningful time consumers gain with the use of autonomous products (e.g., “this product allows you to spend time on more meaningful tasks and pursuits than cleaning”).
Such an intervention can prevent the detrimental effects of meaning of manual labour on autonomous product adoption, the researchers believe.
You can find out more about the study here.
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