IKEA Effect - Harvard Business School

When instant cake mixes were introduced in the 1950's as part of a broader trend ... some labor is enjoyable (building a bear with one's nephew) and some labor ...
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The “IKEA Effect”: When Labor Leads to Love Michael I. Norton Daniel Mochon Dan Ariely

Working Paper 11-091

Copyright © 2011 by Michael I. Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely Working papers are in draft form. This working paper is distributed for purposes of comment and discussion only. It may not be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Copies of working papers are available from the author.

IKEA Effect - 1 -


*Michael I. Norton ([email protected]) is an Associate Professor of Business Administration in the Marketing Unit at the Harvard Business School, Soldiers Field Road, Boston, MA, 02163. Daniel Mochon ([email protected]) is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Marketing at the Rady School of Management, University of California, San Diego, Otterson Hall, 9500 Gilman Drive, MC 0553, La Jolla, CA, 92093. Dan Ariely ([email protected]) is the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, 1 Towerview Drive, Durham, NC, 27708. We thank Mika Chance, Christina Huang, Amy Shelton, Lisa Shu, Carrie Sun, Stephanie Wu, and TianLun Yu for their assistance running the experiments and Lalin Anik, Ryan Buell, Zoe Chance, John Gourville, Anat Keinan, Mary Carol Mazza, and Lisa Shu for their comments.

IKEA Effect - 2 Abstract In a series of studies in which consumers assembled IKEA boxes, folded origami, and built sets of Legos, we demonstrate and investigate the boundary conditions for what we term the “IKEA effect” – the increase in valuation of self-made products. Participants saw their amateurish creations – of both utilitarian and hedonic products – as similar in value to the creations of experts, and expected others to share their opinions. Our account suggests that labor leads to increased valuation only when labor results in successful completion of tasks; thus when participants built and then destroyed their creations, or failed to complete them, the IKEA effect dissipated. Finally, we show that labor increases valuation of completed products not just for consumers who profess an interest in “do-it-yourself” projects, but even for those who are relatively uninterested. We discuss the implications of the IKEA effect for marketing managers and organizations more generally.

IKEA Effect - 3 The “IKEA Effect”: When Labor Leads to Love When instant cake mixes were introduced in the 1950’s as part of a broader trend to simplify the life of the American housewife by minimizing manual labor, housewives were initially resistant: The mixes made cooking too easy, making their labor and skill seem undervalued. As a result, manufacturers changed the recipe to require adding an egg; while there are likely several reasons why this change led to greater subsequent adoption, infusing the task with labor appeared to be a crucial ingredient (Shapiro 2004). Similarly, Build-a-Bear offers people the “opportunity” to construct their own teddy bears, charging customers a premium even as they foist assembly costs onto them, while farmers offer “haycations,” in which consumers must harvest the food they eat during their stay on a farm. One view of the impact of labor on valuation suggests that asking customers to assume production costs should result in reduced willingness to pay once customers subtract the value of their labor from the overall cost of the product; the above examples instead suggest that when people imbue products with their own labor, their effort can increase their valuation. And while some labor is enjoyable (building a bear with one’s nephew) and some labor allows for product customization (making a bear with one’s alma mater’s logo) – both of which might increase valuation – we suggest that labor alone can be sufficient to induce greater liking for the fruits of one’s labor: Even constructing a standardized bureau, an arduous, solitary task, can lead people to overvalue their (often poorly constructed) creations. We call this p