Do You Like What You (Can't) See? The Differential Effects of Hardware and Software Upgrades on High-Tech Product Evaluations

Nico Wiegand*, Monika Imschloss

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


“Over-the-air” software upgrades are a recent trend in the automotive industry to distribute firmware directly to customers via the Internet. These upgrades can endow the vehicle with completely new functions that enhance safety, convenience, and performance. The US manufacturer Tesla was the first to integrate such upgrades on a regular basis to let customers participate in continuous innovation, giving Tesla a competitive edge over rival brands. Since then, several premium manufacturers have followed suit. This research examines how consumers perceive and respond to software upgradeability in durable high-tech products vis-à-vis integral product alternatives and hardware upgradeability. Results of four studies with more than 3,000 participants suggest that consumers evaluate software upgrades less positive than hardware upgrades because they perceive software as less capable to enhance product quality. However, bundling software upgrades to larger packages and stressing the low effort required to integrate new functions are viable ways to remedy this perception. Importantly, the findings suggest that offering products fully equipped with all premium functions to be unlocked via software upgrades—as done by several premium brands—is a risky strategy. Consumers react negatively to the artificial restriction of functionalities, irrespective of whether these are offered as temporary leases or permanent purchases. The findings provide initial evidence for the game-changing potential of software upgradeability and offer managers concrete guidance for designing and marketing upgradeable hardware-software platforms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-40
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Interactive Marketing
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) , grant WI 5017/1-1 , project number 390850382.

Funding Information:
We would like to extend our gratitude to Max Bader for his ongoing support of the project and tremendously helpful input along the way. We also thank Manuel Berkmann for many useful comments on a previous version of this manuscript, and Vanessa Junc for her guidance and ideas in the early project phase. Finally, we are very grateful to the German Research Foundation (DFG) for funding and supporting our research in the field of hardware–software platforms and upgradeability.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Automotive
  • Customization
  • Hardware-software platforms
  • Modularity-in-use
  • Upgradeability


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