Adding delays to increase perceived value: does it work?

A story on Hacker News yesterday kicked off a discussion about purposefully adding a delay to a service to increase perceived value. It started off with a link to Dan Ariely’s recent article on locksmiths: how they can open most doors in seconds, but how they typically go through a slow, theatrical act of “solving” the lock to increase customer satisfaction and get bigger tips.

The discussion moved onto UIs, here’s a couple of tidbits (I admit these are unverified, but they are interesting nonetheless):

davidblair on Coinstar machines:

“Coinstar is a great example of this. The machine is able to calculate the total change deposited almost instantly. Yet, during testing the company learned that consumers did not trust the machines. Customers though it was impossible for a machine to count change accurately at such a high rate. Faced with the issues of trust and preconceived expectations of necessary effort, the company began to rework the user experience. The solution was fairly simple. The machine still counted at the same pace but displayed the results at a significantly slower rate. In fact, the sound of change working the way through the machine is just a recording that is played through a speaker. Altering the user experience to match expectations created trust and met the customers expectation of the necessary effort to complete the task.”


kareemm on Blogger.com:

“I attended a “Redesigning Blogger” workshop in 2004, when Jeff Veen at Adaptive Path and Douglas Bowman (of stopdesign.com, now with Twitter) talked about their experiences redesigning Blogger. One of the things they found in user testing was that when new users clicked “Create my Blog” on the last step of the setup process, they were confused at how quickly their blog was created. “That’s it? Is something wrong?” were the types of things people said. So they added an interstitial “Creating your blog…” type page that did nothing but spin a little animated gif and wait a few seconds before sending new users to the “Yay, your blog is created! page”. Users were far more satisfied with the new experience that took longer.”


To me, adding a delay to a UI just seems plain wrong. It involves pandering to consumers’ incorrect mental models rather than helping them understand the reality of the situation. Honesty should, in principle, trump dishonesty every time. Note, for example, that Blogger.com no longer adds a delay when creating a blog – it’s instantaneous.

What do you think? Are there times when it is useful to design an intentional delay into a UI to give the impression of “doing something valuable”? Are the rules different for people acting in the real world (like locksmiths) versus web UIs – where high value actions are often instantaneous? Finally, can anyone verify or refute the coinstar and blogger.com anecdotes?

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