Retailers are darn good at inventing tricks to separate us from our money. Whether it be through the price points they choose, how they market their products, or their discounting techniques, they are experts at getting inside our brains and influencing our buying decisions. Here are a few of the most popular pricing tricks retailers’ use, along with some easy ways to fight back.
Decoy Pricing Makes Less Expensive Items Look Like a Deal
Decoy pricing is used by retailers to push you towards the purchase of a particular model that pads their profits. The folks at Apple have been using this strategy for years to get consumers to drop money on products that appear to be an excellent value when compared to more expensive models. For example, they currently produce the Apple Watch in thirty-eight different designs, ranging in price from $349 to $17,000. The uber expensive versions are never going to be top sellers, but that’s okay—that’s not their job. Their job is to make the $349-$549 versions look like really good value by comparison. Consumers who might otherwise scoff at the idea of paying over $300 for a smartwatch might not scoff so hard when the alternative is $17,000. To avoid decoy pricing tricks, consider your actual needs first, then find the best version of a product that fills those needs.
High-Low Pricing Jacks Up the Price Knowing You’ll Use a Coupon
High-low pricing occurs when retailers put a relatively high “everyday price” on items, then often lower their prices via coupons and sales events to make it appear like you’re getting a screaming deal. While they’ll never admit it, they never expected you to buy the item at the original price and it’s gravy for them if you do. You’ll often see high-low pricing at retailers like JCPenney, Kohl’s, and Ann Taylor.
This isn’t just a brick-and-mortar trick. Many web sites, including American Eagle, Gap, and Banana Republic, are guilty of high-low pricing as well. Right before releasing a coupon code, they’ll jack up prices to full retail to make it appear like your coupon gives you an amazing deal. In reality, the site-wide sales events many web sites continually roll out offer more savings than the actual coupon code. At the very least, make sure you can combine a coupon with a sale price to maximize your savings and trump high-low pricing altogether.
Dynamic Pricing Decides What to Charge Based on Your Buying History
Dynamic pricing happens when retailers tap into your browsing and buying history, and even your physical location, to determine what they should charge you. They’re essentially trying to figure out your ability to pay based on generalizations like how often you pay full price, what types of items you browse, and how affluent your zip code might be. Dynamic pricing, in one form or another, has been used by online retailers like Amazon, Orbitz, Staples, and Home Depot to maximize their profits.
Prestige Pricing Makes You Think a Higher Price Equals Higher Quality
This is a common pricing strategy that tricks you into thinking that because the price is high, it must mean the quality is superior to cheaper versions. Sometimes that’s true, but sometimes, it really isn’t. Relatable examples include perfume, jewelry, and even new cars. When we find inexpensive or discounted perfume, our first reaction is typically to wonder what must be wrong with it, and often pass on it for the full-priced version. Also, many car manufacturers will use prestige pricing when creating a luxury line. Think Nissan and Infiniti: Both are manufactured on the same chassis and engine, but the Infiniti line has a higher “prestige” price tag based on a few more bells and whistles.
Dr. Anna Akbari, a sociologist and entrepreneur, explains that prestige pricing often comes with celebrity endorsements and usually forgoes the pennies and decimal in the price as they tend to symbolize a bargain in the minds of shoppers. The best way to avoid this pricing trick, especially when making a significant purchase, is to always do your research first. Read user reviews of the product to determine if the prestige price is worth it in terms of overall value to you or is it simply a status purchase. In many cases, the cheaper version will suffice.
Charm Pricing Makes You Think The Price is Lower Than It Actually Is
This one’s obvious: whenever you see an item with a price like $19.99 or $4.97, retailers are attempting to trick your brain with “charm pricing” by marking prices just below a round number. Because we read from left to right, we see the first number in the price and immediately decide if the price is acceptable. According to a study performed by the Journal of Consumer Research, this “left-digit effect” has a significant impact on buying decisions at the point of purchase. Whenever you see a price with .99 or .97, round up in your head before you decide if it’s worthwhile.
“Open the Wallet” Pricing Counts On You Buying Stuff You Don’t Need
Have you ever noticed the elaborate displays near the entrance of many retail stores that sell highly-discounted items? All stuff you had no intent of buying, but clearly can’t live without at the advertised price. The sole purpose of these displays is to get you excited about saving money in the hopes that you’ll open your wallet wide and buy much more within the store at full retail. After all, think of all the money you saved and how that savings entitles you to splurge a little. It’s psychological warfare, and your money is the target. Target, Macy’s, Old Navy, and Walmart are a few of the popular stores notorious for these displays. As long as you know this is how stores decorate their storefronts, you can walk by focused on what you walked into the store to buy in the first place
Everybody loves a good deal, but it’s important to make sure you’re actually getting a real deal. Stay aware of how retailers try to trick you with pricing. You’ll be able to easily spot and avoid the tricks of the trade, and get a real deal more often than not.