Chris Hosford, a spokesman for Hyundai, said company executives sympathized with nervous consumers. “We all got it because we all felt it too,” he said. “We have friends who have lost their jobs.”
Indeed, the recession guarantees can help retailers give the impression that they are not “tone deaf,” as Eric T. Anderson, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, put it. “They’re trying to say ‘We get what’s going on your side,’ ” he said.
Hyundai’s guarantee allows consumers who have lost their jobs to return a new car within a year of the purchase date. Another program, announced in February and offered until April 30, added 90 days of payment relief to the existing protection plan. Other car companies, like Ford and General Motors, followed suit with their own job-loss guarantees.
The Hyundai guarantee was among the reasons Doug Maran of Pembroke Pines, Fla., bought a limited-edition Sonata last week.
“You never know what’s going to happen day to day anymore, why not?” he said, testing his car’s Bluetooth system as he climbed in for the first time on Friday.
Executives at Hyundai and other companies say that providing job-loss insurance has helped lift sales.
“Our research shows that about 10 percent of our sales from the first quarter of this year have come directly from that program,” Mr. Hosford said.
Ted Johnson, chief marketing officer for the Minnesota Timberwolves, said that in the first six weeks of the team’s promotion, “we sold three times the number of tickets as the same time last year and doubled our revenue in new sales.”
Still, despite early signs of success, some scholars contend that the guarantees will be short-lived and will not generate significant sales.
“I don’t think that would be the best way of doing it,” said Claes G. Fornell, a professor at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, and director of the National Quality Research Center there.
“Warranties and guarantees, they reduce the risk of buying, that is true,” Professor Fornell said. But, he said, consumers today care more about saving money than being insured against job loss. The national savings rate, in fact, has skyrocketed.
Guarantees are nothing new. They have been used for decades to reassure customers worried about the staying power of a new product or service. Guarantees linked to a consumer’s work jitters, though, are unique to this deep recession.
“They’re trying to move into a new area of risk reduction which is a little bit unusual,” said Professor Anderson of the Kellogg School. “These are just indicators of what’s going on in the mind of the consumer.”
The new guarantees are intended not to give away suits or cellphone service, but rather to offer peace of mind. After all, the national unemployment rate rose to 8.5 percent last month, from 8.1 percent in February. And economists say the rate could soon climb into the double digits, as it already has in states like California and Michigan.
“I think the fear of job loss is relatively high right now,” said Robert C. Blattberg, a professor of marketing and retailing who has held positions at Carnegie Mellon and Northwestern University, “and even though it may only be two in one hundred, you’re still afraid you are one of the two.”