The psychology of discounting
Something doesn’t add up
How marketers can take advantage of consumers’ innumeracy
Bring a calculator with you
WHEN retailers want to entice customers to buy a particular product, they typically offer it at a discount. According to a new study to be published in the Journal of Marketing, they are missing a trick.
零售商若想怂恿顾客购买某种产品，往往会打个折。一项即将发表在《市场营消杂志》（the Journal of Marketing）上的新研究表明，零售商们忽略了一个窍门。
A team of researchers, led by Akshay Rao of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, looked at consumers’ attitudes to discounting. Shoppers, they found, much prefer getting something extra free to getting something cheaper. The main reason is that most people are useless at fractions.
由明尼苏达州大学卡尔森管理学院（University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management）的阿克什•劳（Akshay Rao）带领的一个研究团队就消费者对打折的态度进行了研究。他们发现，与较低的价格相比，购物者更喜欢获取免费赠品。主要是因为一涉及分数计算，多数人的脑子都转不过来。
Consumers often struggle to realise, for example, that a 50% increase in quantity is the same as a 33% discount in price. They overwhelmingly assume the former is better value. In an experiment, the researchers sold 73% more hand lotion when it was offered in a bonus pack than when it carried an equivalent discount (even after all other effects, such as a desire to stockpile, were controlled for).
This numerical blind spot remains even when the deal clearly favours the discounted product. In another experiment, this time on his undergraduates, Mr Rao offered two deals on loose coffee beans: 33% extra free or 33% off the price. The discount is by far the better proposition, but the supposedly clever students viewed them as equivalent.
Studies have shown other ways in which retailers can exploit consumers’ innumeracy. One is to befuddle them with double discounting. People are more likely to see a bargain in a product that has been reduced by 20%, and then by an additional 25%, than one which has been subject to an equivalent, one-off, 40% reduction.
Marketing types can draw lessons beyond just pricing, says Mr Rao. When advertising a new car’s efficiency, for example, it is more convincing to talk about the number of extra miles per gallon it does, rather than the equivalent percentage fall in fuel consumption.
There may be lessons for regulators too. Even well-educated shoppers are easily foxed. Sending everyone back to school for maths refresher-courses seems out of the question. But more prominently displayed unit prices in shops and advertisements would be a great help.