Why We Upgrade

Decision to upgrade products is tied to self-improvement, self-esteem

“New and improved” may have been the mantra of a bygone era in consumer marketing. But never before have product upgrades come as fast and frequent as they do today.

Why do we go for upgraded cars and athletic shoes and televisions and mobile devices when what we have still works fine?

A new study by Mark Forehand, a professor of marketing at Foster, indicates that our willingness to pay for product upgrades is tied to the extent to which we see improvement in ourselves.

When we feel that we are advancing in some way, we’re more likely to see a product’s enhancements and more willing to fork over money to acquire them—especially when we identify strongly with the brand.

“Regardless of how much a product has actually improved, it’s the subjective perception of improvement that truly matters,” says Forehand, the Pigott Family Professor in Business Administration at Foster. “Our research suggests that consumers’ own sense of self-improvement is one factor that can increase perceptions of product improvement and subsequently heighten the desire to upgrade.”

The study also revealed, perhaps not surprisingly, that we are especially vulnerable to the seductions of upgrades when we are in need of some self-esteem.

Ed Kromer Managing Editor Foster School

Ed Kromer is the managing editor of Foster Business magazine. Over the past two decades, he has served as the school’s senior storyteller, writing about a wide array people, programs, insights and innovations that power the Foster School community.