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In the last 3 years, the consumer price index has risen by nearly 18%. Chances are, your customer is facing sticker shock on most items and you’ve maxed out on your ability to raise prices. So what do you do? Here are 6 ways to raise your average sale, without a price increase. Is this a trick headline? Nope. Its behavioral science. 

First, some Pricing Principles:

  • The way customers assess value changes with context. “To change the perceived value of an item, change the context.” (1)

  • The context of a purchase decision is shaped by many factors, including the urgency of the need, the physical environment, comparisons to other products, and even the information the customer hears first in a sales pitch.

(1) Kristen Berman, CEO, Irrational Labs.


1.Present Your Highest Price First

Research indicates that your customer relies heavily on the first piece of information they hear about a product. In Behavior Science, it’s called Anchoring. Once the customer hears the first or anchor price, all future prices are compared

to that anchor price. Retailers often use this by setting a high initial price as the anchor, which makes the discounted price seem a better deal.

When Apple launched the iPad, rumors circulated that the price would be $999. So when Apple launched the iPad at $499, it felt like a bargain. It’s a strategy that Apple has repeatedly used to build its business. Watch the master, Steve Jobs, announce it here.


Here’s the weird part: price anchors can be arbitrary. According to research conducted at Stanford, ANY high number – like the last 2 digits of your social security number -- can serve as an anchoring device. So, how would you use this? Show a high SKU number, the number of followers, or the number of items sold to nudge customers to select the higher-priced option in your product mix.  

2.Present Your Items in Descending Order

When items are presented in descending price order, customers are more likely to pick a more expensive item. Conversely, consumers choose lower-priced options when products are displayed in ascending price order. In an 8-week experiment conducted with beer pricing, behavioral scientists maximized revenue by presenting beer prices in price order, from high to low.  Why? Anchoring. Higher initial prices make subsequent prices feel cheaper. Conversely, when they presented beer in ascending order, customers felt more pressure to select a beer before prices increased. 

3.Compare Apples to Oranges

Want to sell more of the expensive items in your product mix?  Research suggests shifting what you're comparing them to. Behavioral Scientist Dr. Robert Cialdini helped a hot tub company boost its sales of luxury spas using this technique. Dr. Cialdini instructed sales teams to:

  • Change the sequence of their pitch to present the luxury tub first

  • Mention that luxury tub buyers believed that one of the benefits of their tub was that it gave them a whole new room for entertaining friends and family.

  • Ask customers how much they would expect to pay to add a room to their home.

Sales teams then contrasted the price of a home extension with the cost of the luxury tub. Suddenly, the spa's price seemed like a steal. By presenting the luxury tubs first and framing it as an entertainment space, sales skyrocketed 520%. 

Source: Dr. Robert Cialdini

4.Introduce a Decoy  

Want to make your most profitable item seem like a bargain? Add a higher-priced, lower-value product to your mix. It will make your more profitable product seem like a better deal. Adding a medium-priced popcorn makes the large-sized popcorn look like a better deal in comparison and nudges customers to select the large popcorn instead.

In research conducted with Walt Disney Vacations, adding a decoy tour package increased tour prices by 7.6%.  

Decoy pricing was made famous by Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely in his book Predictably Irrational. In his book, Ariely described The Economist's odd pricing strategy—a print subscription at the same price as a combined print and digital one. It didn't seem rational, so it prompted Ariely to test the perceived value of this tactic by conducting 2 experiments with his students. Adding a decoy – a higher-priced print subscription – shifted customers' preferences, increasing the appeal of the combined print and digital subscription and boosting subscription prices by 40%. Watch Ariely describe his research here. Photo source: Expires@Midnight.


5.Limit Quantities

KFC's ad agency, Ogilvy UK, was looking for ways to promote $1 large fries in Australia, where they're called chips. Everything was on the table except 2 rules: no change to the price and no change to the product. You could only change the perception of value. The team came up with many ideas and tested 9. The winning concept against the control of $1 chips was: Chips $1, Limit 4 per customer.


Sales jumped 37% vs. the control. With radio, sales leaped by 56%. In the past, "limit 4 per customer" had always been in the terms and conditions. But by making it more salient, they introduced the idea of scarcity by limiting the number of fries customers could buy. It also created an implied social norm or anchor quantity for buying portions.


Snickers tried a similar tactic. They changed the CTA in a print ad from, "Buy Them for Your Freezer" to "Buy 18 for Your Freezer". Sales grew 38%.


6.Recommend Your Most Popular Upgrade

McDonald's UK wanted to boost sales of its desserts, so it conducted an experiment in several stores. When customers placed their order, they were asked, 'Would you like to purchase a dessert? Our most popular dessert is the McFlurry.' Sales of the McFlurry increased 55% Then, in another group of stores, customers were asked if they wanted to customize the topping on their McFlurry and were told the most popular topping at their store.  Toppings increased by 48%. Source: Dr. Robert Cialdini


  • Present your highest priced item first

  • Present your products in descending price order

  • Change the comparison -- from apples to oranges

  • Add a decoy price

  • Limit the quantity the customer can purchase to a high number

  • Recommend your most popular upgrade


Read over the list and see what you think. Have only 1 item to sell? Add 2 more and make 1 a decoy. Provide the right comparison. Present your offering in descending price order. Limit the quantity to establish a social norm. Recommend your most popular upgrade.


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