Work-to-Unlock Rewards: Leveraging Goals in Reward Systems to Increase Consumer Persistence

38 Pages Posted: 26 May 2021

See all articles by Marissa Sharif

Marissa Sharif

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School

Kaitlin Woolley

Cornell University

Date Written: May 25, 2021


Six studies (N = 3,209) demonstrate that introducing a period in which consumers must work-to-unlock continuous rewards increases persistence relative to when consumers can earn continuous rewards for their effort right away. When working to unlock rewards, consumers must complete a target number of goal-related actions before receiving continuous rewards for their actions (e.g., start receiving continuous rewards after going to the gym four days). We suggest that the motivating power of work-to-unlock rewards arises because (1) work-to-unlock rewards naturally encourage consumers to set an attainable goal to start earning rewards, motivating consumers initially through goal setting and (2) keep consumers persisting after reaching this initial goal through the provision of continuous rewards. Work-to-unlock rewards thus leverage goal setting and continuous rewards to increase persistence relative to standard continuous rewards across a variety of consumer relevant domains (e.g., exercising, flossing, shopping, etc.), and when reward magnitude is equivalent or lower for work-to-unlock rewards. We further identify theoretically consistent boundary conditions of this effect, such as length of the unlocking period, knowledge of the reward structure, and type of reward available after the unlocking period (e.g., continuous vs. lump sum).

Keywords: reward, goal, motivation, persistence,

Suggested Citation

Sharif, Marissa and Woolley, Kaitlin, Work-to-Unlock Rewards: Leveraging Goals in Reward Systems to Increase Consumer Persistence (May 25, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Marissa Sharif (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

3730 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

Kaitlin Woolley

Cornell University

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

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