Research Shows Customers Feel More Accomplished When Their Progress Is Tracked in Round Numbers

“Numbers are symbolic representations that can be easily manipulated,” says Kunter Gunasti, an assistant professor of marketing and international business at WSU’s Carson College of Business.

Round numbers can be powerful marketing tools, increasing people’s sense of accomplishment as they work towards goals in areas like finances or weight loss, according to new Washington State University research.

“Most people have a preference for round numbers,” said Kunter Gunasti, an assistant professor of marketing and international business at WSU’s Carson College of Business. “Hitting a round number makes us feel more complete. This happens when we’re taking tests, getting paid, leaving tips or pumping gas.”

Many of us, for instance, would be more excited about receiving a $2,000 paycheck in Canadian currency than the U.S equivalent of $1,521, Gunasti said. And, being told that we’ve lost 10 kilograms might give us a greater feeling of achievement than hearing the identical amount expressed as 22 pounds.

New research by Gunasti and Timucin Ozcan, an associate marketing professor at James Madison University, demonstrates how effective round numbers can be in consumer marketing campaigns. Their work, which was published in the journal Marketing Letters, measures how consumers’ feelings of accomplishment are influenced by changing the scales used to track progress.

Studies test effect of round numbers in wages, loyalty programs, video games

Gunasti and Ozcan said reaching a goal expressed in round numbers results in higher levels of customer satisfaction. That was particularly true when the final goal was still distant, the researchers said. Hitting intermediate targets expressed as round numbers increased customers’ feeling of progress at low levels of achievement.

The researchers tested their theory in laboratory scenarios related to wages, loyalty programs and video games. In the scenarios, they manipulated the scales used to track progress.

People who were working towards a monthly earnings target felt better about their paychecks when their wages were expressed in round numbers.

Another scenario tracked customers’ progress toward a free international flight through an airline loyalty program. People felt closer to earning the free flight when the currency tracking the rewards points was switched from British pounds to euros, allowing customers to hit a round number for an intermediate target toward the flight.

A third scenario looked at video games where participants were trying to earn up to 100 points. After three games, participants felt a greater sense of satisfaction from reaching 50 points than they did when they ended at 51 points.

‘Don’t be a slave to the decimal system’

To be savvy consumers, people should be aware how easily marketers can exploit our preferences for round numbers to heighten our sense of achievement, Gunasti said.

“Don’t be a slave to the decimal system,” he said. “Numbers are symbolic representations that can be easily manipulated.”

Someone who can do 19 pushups should feel a similar sense of accomplishment to performing 20 pushups, he said.

And if a weight loss program tells you you’ve lost 300 ounces?

“Run the numbers,” Gunasti said. “Congratulations: You’ve lost 18.8 pounds.”

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