Most of us suck at doing maths on the fly. Retail shops use shifty numbers to persuade us into thinking we're getting a deal. The Atlantic takes a look at the ways our brains interpret numbers and how retail stores take advantage of that.
Photo by Lordcolus.
It's no secret that we all do a lot of stupid things while shopping, but as The Atlantic points out, it's not always our fault. We're just bad at interpreting numbers:
First: Consumers don't know what the heck anything should cost, so we rely on parts of our brains that aren't strictly quantitative. Second: Although humans spend in numbered dollars, we make decisions based on clues and half-thinking that amount to innumeracy.
The Atlantic puts together 11 examples of our bad maths, and many are points we've heard before: we're heavily influenced by the first number, we let emotions get in the way, and we're obsessed with the number nine. One rather tricky method stores might use against you is all about product placement:
In his book Priceless, William Poundstone explains what happened when Williams-Sonoma added a $US429 breadmaker next to their $US279 model: Sales of the cheaper model doubled even though practically nobody bought the $US429 machine. Lesson: If you can't sell a product, try putting something nearly identical, but twice as expensive, next to it. It'll make the first product look like a gotta-have-it bargain. One explanation for why this tactic works is that people like stories or justifications. Since it's terribly hard to know the true value of things, we need narratives to explain our decisions to ourselves. Price differences give us a story and a motive: The $US279 breadmaker was, like, 40 per cent cheaper than the other model — we got a great deal! Good story.
We've seen this idea before with the compromise-price effect. The idea that you're getting a deal, and more importantly, that you can tell people you got a deal, might be a surprising factor you can consider next time you're out shopping. The story you brain comes up with might not be wrong (you might actually be getting a good breadmaker), but it's worth considering.
Head over to The Atlantic for a full breakdown of all the ways numbers negatively influence your shopping experience. The more your know about how your brain poorly interprets these numbers, the better chance you have to counteract them when you're out shopping.
The 11 Ways That Consumers Are Hopeless at Math [The Atlantic]