Persuading buyers with number psychology

We’re in the season of mid-year sales, so here are a couple of pointers about representing discounts and prices to maximise your conversion.


1. How to best represent a discount range

Many businesses offer a range of discounts depending on the stock. Some might be marked down by 20%, others 50%. So is it better to say “20% to 50% off” or “up to 50% off”?

Here are a couple of examples from the local paper. Advertiser one is communicating the discount range whereas Advertiser two is using the upper limit only.


Advertiser one Range of discounts


Advertiser two Upper discount only

According to Dr Flint McGlaughlin from Marketing Experiments, people tend to assume the first number represents the most common discount, so in the case of Advertiser 1, most people would believe that the majority of rugs are 25% off. You are therefore better to follow Advertiser two’s technique and go with “up to xx% off”.

2. Use decimals to elongate or diminish the number

To make a number look bigger, add decimals. To diminish the number, round off.

Sometimes you want the number to look big, for instance when offering a cash prize or promoting the amount of money you have donated. Take an example from Advertiser three below, who is touting a cash prize and therefore has added decimals to elongate the number, and compare it with Advertiser four, who missed the opportunity and instead rounded the amount they have donated to the community.


Advertiser three Added decimals


Advertiser four Rounded number

When you want the number to look smaller, try rounding. Flip through a real estate section to see examples like Advertiser five, who has diminished the price and contrast this with Advertiser six, who has not. And finally, learn from Advertiser 7 who missed the chance to make the price seem small by adding unnecessary decimals, elongating the number. Representing the price as $139 would have been more effective.


Advertiser five Rounded number


Advertiser six Unrounded number


Advertiser seven Added decimals

There are examples all around you of how numbers and discounts have been communicated. Whilst we’ve only scratched the surface in this post, the lesson is that you cannot take the decision about how to represent a number for granted because it will have a significant impact on buying behaviour. Be smart about your choices and you will maximise your marketing conversion.

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, [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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