Some people are willing to wait in line overnight to be the first to buy a just released book or to be the first to see a newly released movie. Others wait in line in the middle of the night to have first access to deals on “black Friday” or to be first to buy an iPad. New research in the Journal for Consumer Research, co-authored by Belmont Assistant Professor of Marketing Jacqueline (Jax) Conard, suggests that the tendency to act quickly to acquire items such as those above is related to the first letter of one’s childhood surname. Conard’s work with Georgetown University marketing professor Kurt A. Carlson is receiving media attention around the world, with recent hits in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report and the New York Times as well as interviews with ABC News and media in Australia and Sweden.
The idea holds that children develop time-dependent responses based on the treatment that they receive. For example, many children with last names toward the end of the alphabet are often last in line and at the back of classrooms. In an effort to account for these inequities, children late in the alphabet will move more quickly when last name isn’t a factor; they will “buy early.” Likewise, those with last names early in the alphabet will be so accustomed to being first that individual opportunities to make a purchase won’t matter very much; they will “buy late.” This tendency to “buy early” or “buy late” will continue into adulthood and is known as the last name effect. Moreover, this predictable tendency will extend to many other buying situations.
This last name effect is especially important to retailers and sales people because customer names are easy for marketers to obtain and because there are many decisions in which the decision is not whether to buy, but when to buy. More examples include when to renew a favorite magazine subscription, when to buy a new cell phone and when to reorder printer supplies.