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The Kayak Effect: Why Making Customers Wait Drives Satisfaction

The longer you make people wait with an app or a site, the less satisfied they become, right?

Not always.

There is a curious effect – the Kayak Effect – named after the popular travel price comparison app, that results in satisfaction and perceptions of value actually increasing with wait time – particularly if the app ends up delivering an attractive result.  People prefer to wait for up to a minute to get what they want from an app rather than get it instantly – if, and it’s an important if, they believe the app is working for them.  Kayak, for example, shows customers each airline it searches, as if it is reporting as it  searches in real time. Making customers wait for what they want can increase not only perceived value, but also satisfaction and (re)purchase intention.


Making customers wait, pays.

And the psychology works like this, we value things more when we believe effort has been put into them – particularly if that effort is on our behalf.  All that hard work by Kayak, going out and finding all those live prices – just for us – triggers feelings of reciprocity that leads us to perceive the service as more valuable, and our appreciation and satisfaction rises. Also by showing work in progress – the app reduces uncertainty and promotes perceived quality. Interestingly, this Kayak Effect only works when we’re given specifics about the work being done for us (like airlines being queried) – a ‘blind’ progress bar does the opposite – it kills satisfaction and perceptions of value.

Also known as the “labour illusion”, this Kayak effect is the main finding of researchers Ryan W. Buell, Michael I. Norton in Management Science: The Labor Illusion: How Operational Transparency Increases Perceived Value. The research not only found that people prefer a version of the same app if made to wait, but the Kayak Effect also drives preference between different competing apps, with preference for apps that make us wait.

Bottom line, if you have to work to give your customers what they want, don’t hide it – flaunt it!


Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.