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.

Consumer Behaviour

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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    Dr Kin Kariisa

    Group CEO - Next Media

    Dr. Kin Kariisa is an extraordinary force at the helm of Next Media Services, a conglomerate encompassing NBS TV, Nile Post, Sanyuka TV, Next Radio, Salam TV, Next Communication, Next Productions, and an array of other influential enterprises. His dynamic role as Chief Executive Officer exemplifies his unwavering commitment to shaping media, business, and community landscapes.
    With an esteemed academic journey, Dr. Kariisa’s accolades include an Honorary PhD in exemplary community service from the United Graduate College inTexas, an MBA from United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Huazong University in China, and a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics from Makerere University.
    Dr. Kariisa pursued PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. As a dynamic educator, he has shared his expertise as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at both Makerere University and Radboud University.

    Dr Kin did his PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radbond University in Nigmegen, Netherlands. He previously served as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and Radbond University in Netherlands.

    Dr Kin did his postgraduate courses in Strategic Business Management, Strategic Leadership Communication and Strategies for Leading Successful Change Initiatives at Harvard University, Boston USA.

    • Other current and previous roles played by Dr Kin Kariisa:
    • Lecturer of e-Government and Information Security to graduate students at Makerere University, Kampala and Radbond University in the Netherlands
    • Director of Eco Bank Uganda Limited, one of the largest banks in Africa
    • Chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, an umbrella industry association for all Television, Radio and online broadcasters in Uganda.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Nile Hotel International, that owns the leading hotel in Uganda, Kampala Serena Hotel.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Soliton Telmec Uganda, the leading telecom company in Optic fibre business managing over 80% of optic fibre in Uganda.