Utility in economics is ordinal. That means that a person can rank the order of their preferences, but they can't assign a quantitative figure to the preferences. For example, I know I like M & Ms more than Reeses Pieces, but I don't know how much more. If I could assign a number to the preferences, then my utility would be cardinal. Utility is a slippery slope. In AP economics we say utility is anything that brings satisfaction. Students are usually satisfied with that definition, but I wonder if the definition is too broad.
I think the definition should be changed to show that the utility is the net satisfaction of all costs and benefits that accrue in the consumption of the good. Perhaps it is better to break the term down into different components like Logistics does.
In Logistics, utility can take several forms including time, form, place, and possession. Let's briefly look at each.
FORM UTILITY: Enhancing the marketability of a product by changing its physical characteristics. For example, boxed detergent can be produced in liquid form, which may be more advantageous for certain consumer preferences.
TIME UTILITY: Enhancing a product's marketability by making it available at a convenient time. For example, a daily newspaper home delivered so that the customer has it available immediately when he/she awakes for the day.
PLACE UTILITY: Where the product or service is made available. For example, if it is a retail establishment, people should be provided with easy access. Mail order companies make it easy for customers to shop whenever they want and then have their purchases delivered to them.
POSSESSION UTILITY: Additional created by allowing easy transferring of a product's ownership. For example, various time payment, leasing, and credit purchase strategies can be important in making a product more attractive to a consumer.
I also think that utility is inter-temporal. For example, if I hold tickets to the Iowa-Ohio State football game that will decide the Big 10 Title, then up until the game begins, utility will increase. After the game wears on and the outcome becomes certain, then the utility will diminish.
Utility is the brain child of Jeremy Bentham who postulated that man pursues pleasure and avoids pain. I have been questioning the utilitarianism of choice in light of all of the behavior research that shows that consumers are not rational.