Consumers Become Careless with Possessions as Soon as Product Upgrades Are Available, Says Research from Columbia Business School

Columbia Business School Professor Silvia BellezzaClick here for high-resolution version
Columbia Business School Professor Silvia BellezzaClick here for high-resolution version

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwired - December 05, 2016) -

  • People act recklessly with their current products when they are thinking of upgrading

  • The research provides critical insights into consumer behavior and product-use cycles

  • Marketers can use these insights to create product-launch strategy

Consumers are glued to their smartphones -- so what makes smartphone owners suddenly lose, drop, break, shatter, or destroy their prized possessions? Research from Columbia Business School Professor Silvia Bellezza says consumers act recklessly with their current products when in the presence of appealing upgrades.

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The research, titled Be Careless with That! Availability of Product Upgrades Increases Cavalier Behavior toward Possessions, co-authored by Bellezza, Joshua M. Ackerman of University of Michigan, and Francesca Gino of Harvard University, shows that the availability of product upgrades actually leads consumers to mistreat the products they own.

"We would feel guilty about upgrading without a reason -- but if our current product were damaged or depleted, we'd have a justification to upgrade without appearing wasteful," says Bellezza, co-author of the study and Assistant Professor of Marketing at Columbia Business School. "So, we use our phone in the rain or leave our laptop behind at airport security without being aware that our carelessness has an underlying motivation."

In one of the studies, the authors scrutinized the behavior of iPhone owners to understand this phenomenon. According to the research, when faced with the availability of a newer model, iPhone owners became more thoughtless with their current phones. By looking at a real world dataset of 3,000 lost iPhones, provided by the company IMEI Detective, the research examined how consumers behaved once a new iPhone became available versus when no upgrade existed. The evidence demonstrated how the availability of a next generation iPhone increased negligent attitudes toward the current phone as the release date of the next model grew closer.

About the Research
To explore consumers' carelessness, Bellezza and her co-authors conducted a series of studies that employed different types of upgrades available for the consumer-owned products. The studies were conducted with owners of widely diverse consumer goods, such as iPhones, mugs, shampoo, and glasses. Additionally, the research investigated different indicators of carelessness toward owned products, such as product neglect, risky behaviors, or faster utilization rates for replaceable goods.

This research has implications for marketers in helping capitalize on actual product-use cycles. Marketers strive to understand this behavior so they can create better incentives to increase sales. Since the research provides critical insights into consumer behavior among brand loyalists, marketers can use this insight into how these consumers shift their behavior toward obtaining an upgrade, and then develop appropriate product upgrade strategy.

"Marketers want to encourage product attachment, but they face the complex dilemma of also needing to persuade owners not to hang on to the product for too long," says Bellezza. "Several brands, such as Virgin Mobile, eBay, and T-Mobile, have recently tackled this challenge by creating humorous commercials featuring consumers' careless behavior. Although the ads are funny and unrealistic, their underlying message encourages owners to likewise behave recklessly with their own products."

To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit

About Columbia Business School
Columbia Business School is the only world-class, Ivy League business school that delivers a learning experience where academic excellence meets with real-time exposure to the pulse of global business. Led by Dean Glenn Hubbard, the School's transformative curriculum bridges academic theory with unparalleled exposure to real world business practice, equipping students with an entrepreneurial mindset that allows them to recognize, capture, and create opportunity in any business environment. The thought leadership of the School's faculty and staff, combined with the accomplishments of its distinguished alumni and position in the center of global business, means that the School's efforts have an immediate, measurable impact on the forces shaping business every day. To learn more about Columbia Business School's position at the very center of business, please visit

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