Supersize in One Dimension, Downsize in Three Dimensions: Effects of Spatial Dimensionality on Size Perceptions and Preferences

Pierre Chandon and Nailya Ordabayeva
Journal of Marketing Research (JMR)
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Key Takeaways

Executive Summary
Understanding consumer response to product supersizing and downsizing is an important issue for policy makers, consumer researchers, and marketers. In three laboratory experiments and two field studies, the authors find that changes in size appear smaller when objects change in all three spatial dimensions—height, width, and length—than when they change in only one dimension. This is because to double the size of a package in three dimensions, increasing each dimension by 26% is enough—but it just does not seem to be enough.

This effect of dimensionality has several important consequences for consumer preferences. First, partially due to biased size expectations, consumers expect steeper quantity discounts for products supersized in three dimensions than for products supersized in one dimension, even when information about actual package size is provided (Study 2). Second, when consumers try to change product dosage, they pour more product into and out of conical containers (e.g., martini glasses, in which volume changes in three dimension) than cylindrical containers (e.g., highball glasses, in which volume changes in one dimension). Third, when choosing between normal-sized and resized packages, consumers prefer packages that are supersized in one dimension and downsized in three dimensions (Study 4). Finally, consistent with the dimensionality bias, marketers offer steeper quantity discounts for packages supersized in three dimensions than for those supersized in one dimension (Study 5).

These effects of dimensionality are large and replicate across food and nonfood products, different modes of representations (pictures or actual products), different settings (laboratory and real market), and even when information about the actual size of the products is present. These are some of the highlights of the results: Compared with a one-dimensional (1-D) increase in package size, a three-dimensional (3-D) increase

·Reduces people’s size estimations by up to 68% (e.g., an eightfold increase is perceived as a sevenfold increase for a 1-D change, but only as a fourfold increase for a 3-D change);

·Decreases the unit price people are willing to pay for larger sizes by up to 57%;

·Leads people to pour 19% more vodka, cocktail, and infant medicine in conical containers than in cylindrical containers;

·Reduces the likelihood of buying supersized alcoholic beverages by 32%; and

·Increases the likelihood of buying a downsized cola and popcorn by 21%.

These results have important practical implications. For consumers and policy makers, they imply that to monitor consumption and prevent overconsumption of harmful substances, people should use cylindrical containers instead of conical containers and choose portions and packages that increase in one dimension rather than in three dimensions. For marketers, the results mean that supersizing packages in one dimension (versus three dimension) produces higher price expectations (and thus lower quantity discount expectations) and stronger preference. Conversely, downsizing in three dimensions (versus one dimension) is less visually noticeable and thus is less likely to provoke consumer reactance.

Pierre Chandon is Associate Professor of Marketing at INSEAD (with tenure), where he has been a faculty member since 1999. He was Visiting Assistant Professor of Marketing in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University (2004–2005) and in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (2005–2006). He holds a PhD from HEC Paris and an MBA from ESSEC. His research is on how perceptual biases influence food consumption decisions, attention and consideration decisions at the point of purchase, and the validity of marketing surveys. He has published articles in Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Marketing, and Journal of Consumer Research. He is a member of the editorial boards of Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing, International Journal of Research in Marketing, and Recherche et Applications en Marketing (the journal of the French Marketing Association). His research and case studies have won numerous awards, including an honorable mention in the 2005 Marketing Science Institute /H. Paul Root Award and the ECCH prize for the fastest-selling case in 2006 (marketing category), 2007 (marketing category and overall award), and 2008 (overall award).

Nailya Ordabayeva is a doctoral candidate at INSEAD. Nailya holds a BSc with honors in Management from Bilkent University in Turkey. Her research examines the effects of the distribution of status and income in a society on how poor consumers choose between savings and conspicuous consumption. She also studies the effects of package downsizing and supersizing on food consumption. Her joint work with Pierre Chandon on the effect of spatial dimensionality on consumer preferences won the Best Paper Finalist Award at the 2008 London Business School Transatlantic Doctoral Conference. She was a doctoral fellow at the 2008 AMA Sheth Foundation Doctoral Consortium and presented her work at various conferences. Nailya has manuscripts under review at Journal of Consumer Research.

Journal of Marketing Research, Volume 46, Number 6, December 2009
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Author Bio:

Pierre Chandon and Nailya Ordabayeva
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