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When do We Prefer to be Patient?


Users don't always prefer to have their website respond immediately. They often like to have things take their time, as long as it shows them how hard it's working.

The Science

Participants were placed in front of one of those flight booking website. The sort that crawls the internet looking for the cheapest flights to the user's destination. Participants were split into three groups:

1. Those who received their search results immediately.

2. Those who received them only after a 60 second wait.

3. Those who received them after a 60 second wait, but could see the search process go on in front of their eyes.

In the third case, user's would see the search engine say things like: "now searching American Airlines", on the screen while they waited.

When asked which website they prefer, 63% of participants preferred the third choice. They rated it more valuable and more effective as well.

The Practice

This phenomenon is called the "labor illusion". People will ascribe more value to a process or product if they can see the hard work that was put into it. This is true even if the work shown is entirely fabricated.

All of the flight search engines were doing the same thing. They were all going over every flight on the internet and comparing their prices. Deep down, users knew that to be true, but they proffered the slower transparent version over the equally effective and much faster version. Sometimes it's a good idea to show people how hard your product is working for them (best not cheat. I'm sure your system is working hard enough). It might even be worth making the process a little slower, to give people time to have that work register.

There are, however, limits to this idea. Making people wait is fine for products that people visit rarely. Products such as flight search engines, insurance calculators, and tax websites. Any product or website with which users interact daily, will suffer from such a delay.

The novelty of seeing a product's leg work wears off quite quickly. Use a product enough, and users begin to value speed and accuracy over whatever is causing them to wait. In those cases, it's best to just show them the result immediately. And, of course, if your product involves a point where your users have to wait for calculations to be done, best put some of that process on the screen for them to enjoy while they wait. Who knows, it might even make them like you product more.

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