Memo To All BizTrekers

Over the last decade, emerging research confirms that your eyes, ears and brain may be tricking you … and it may impact how you should price what you sell.

Do you think you are hearing about a hot deal?  It may not be what you think it is. You may be responding to unconscious cues that influence your perception of prices.

Apparently, certain consonants and vowel sounds convey a sense of “smallness” while others suggest “bigness” to our brains. 

These studies are showing that this can work to give people a misleading sense of expectation about values or bargains when they comparison shop for items with prices containing those sounds.

This insight comes from an interesting study co-authored by Keith Coulter, an associate professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts and Robin Coulter (Keith’s wife), a professor at the University of Connecticut.

This study reports that “The sounds themselves convey largeness or smallness.”

When you’re dealing with a comparison of a sale price to a regular price, they found that if the sound itself conveys smallness, then the smallness essentially transfers to the sale price and the sale price is perceived as small in comparison to the regular price, which increases the size of the perceived discount.

Here are some specifics from their research:

1) Front vowels sound light and airy (like the letter “i” in six) and convey a sense of smallness.

2) Back vowels, on the other hand, convey a sense of bigness and sound more guttural (like the letter “o” in two).

3) Fricative consonants, such as placing the lower lip against the upper teeth, as in the case of the letter “f” convey a sense of smallness.

4) Stop consonants smack of bigness (like the harsher “t” in two).

What might that mean to you? This research indicates that sale prices with numbers that sound small cause consumers to overestimate the discount off the regular price, but larger-sounding sale prices can make the savings look paltry for people who are comparison shopping.

And there’s more …

Most people have historically assumed that sale prices should appear in a larger font than the regular prices in advertisements to emphasize the deal, but the couple’s research found the opposite.

People actually perceive better value and are more likely to purchase if the regular price is in a bigger font, because the sale price appears literally smaller by comparison.

Smaller font … smaller price … hence larger perceived discount.

Similarly, it a related study, the Coulters found that people see better bargains and are more likely to buy if the sale price and regular price are written further apart. This creates the impression or appearance that there seems to be more distance … and a better discount … between the two.

Although these finding feel counter-intuitive, it kind of makes sense now that you hear it.

So what might you do to get better results from your sales promotions?

1) Use pricing numbers with front vowels and fricative consonants for your sale pricing (i.e. 5 or 6 feel smaller than 2).

2) When creating ads, posters or fliers, make the font size for the sale price smaller than the regular price.

3) When showcasing sale prices in print, create a little more visual separation between the regular and sales price.