Lessons in behavioural economics from a small business owner

“Find your happy place” is what my photographer kept telling me as he snapped away for my website head shots. Well, I want you to find a happy place too by learning about how my photographer, Con, intuitively used behavioural economics to persuade me to buy his services.

1. Present services as clustered packages

Con offers three packages for professionals, Start-Up, Professional and Entrepreneur. By packaging up the options, Con was doing a couple of things. First, he was creating a perceived value gap between them to support the price ladder and, second, he was reducing the complexity of the decision. Contrast this with a longwinded and overwhelming conversation where the customer has to define their requirements such as number of shots and intended use – packaging options is a much smarter play.

2. Include special offer pricing

Con uses anchoring in his package pricing. Anchoring is where we fixate on the pricing information first presented, and then judge other prices in relation to that. Every business can and should use anchoring to help their customers contextualise value. In fact, as the price tag image showcases, retailers use this technique all the time to make the sale price seem like great value compared with the Recommended Retail Price (RRP).

In this case, the most expensive package was presented first on the page to anchor me with the other two below, helping to persuade me that they were reasonable.

Then, under each package was quoted the “Regular Price” followed on the next line by a “Special Offer” price in larger font. As an added bonus the amount saved was also specified. Now not only was I anchored to differences between packages, I was primed to work out how to qualify for the significant savings. By this stage, I had mentally accounted for the Special Offer price, triggering my behavioural intent to avoid paying full price before even knowing how to qualify for the discount.

Whatever you do with your pricing, do not underestimate the power of the pain your customers will feel by missing out on the discount. Intellectually I know that the RRP and the ‘amount saved’ is a fabrication, but that doesn’t mean it does not persuade me.

3. Use payment terms to your advantage

The Special Offer price was related to the payment options. The first option was to pay 50% on booking with the balance on the day. The second option, and “by far the most popular” according to the collateral, was to qualify for the special offer by paying 100% upfront at the time of booking. Cashflow is king for small businesses, so locking in payment ahead of the work is a great strategy. Note the “most popular” is a clever way of using social norming to influence adherence to Con’s preferred option.

4. Up sell once the cost is sunk

Having elected for the most frugal package before the shoot, I was then caught when the number of photos I liked exceeded my allocation. No problem, I could pay extra on the day. This is a great way for businesses to drive some extra revenue for two reasons. One, I had already worn the cost of the initial outlay so it was a ‘sunk’ cost, and two, I had by that stage engaged in the process and so it was harder to walk away. Known as the ‘endowment effect’, we find it harder to let something go when we’ve had a hand in creating it.

So there you go. As a small business operator Con was effectively using behavioural principles such as anchoring, social norming, loss aversion, endowment effect and choice architecture to guide buying behaviour. Con’s found his happy place, so you can too.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns Pty Ltd, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues. Bri is a presenter, consultant and author who you can find out more about at www.peoplepatterns.com.au, [email protected] or by following on Twitter @peoplepatterns. Bri’s book, “22 Minutes to a Better Business”, about how behavioural economics can help you tackle everyday business issues, is available through the Blurb bookstore.


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