Actual subject line that landed in my inbox:
“Help me solve a sales mystery, please?”
Well, fetch me my cape, Watson! There are games afoot!
(Obviously I watch too much BBC. Also, I like good subject lines.)
I know there has to be an answer to this quandary, I just can’t find it. My magic purchase number appears to be 15 images. I have three photo packages 10, 15, 25 (all). People most often choose the middle one despite it being the worst value (25/all is the best value by far).
And when I’ve done a la carte sales, clients choose 15 images regardless of how many or how few images I show them. (Here’s what’s additionally odd about it, a la carte pricing comes out to the same amount for 15 images as the 25/all package price.)
I can’t figure out why 15, and more importantly, I can’t figure out how to make that work for me.
:: Rubbing hands together ::
Oh, I do love a good psychology whodunit.
Now. According to Moriarty, “Every fairy tale needs a good old-fashioned villain.”
And in this case, we probably have two psychological ‘villains’:
Villain #1: Central Tendency
In short? People like picking the middle option.
And I mean, they REALLY like picking the middle option.
Psychology researchers have had a field day proving this point.
Show people five random photos – in a horizontal line or a vertical column – and ask them which they like best? They tend to pick the middle one.
Present a display of five pairs of identical socks and ask people which they prefer? The one in the middle.
Randomly assign people to spots on a stage for a game show? The people assigned to the middle are more likely to win, and observers tend to overlook errors made by people in the middle.
Ask people to rate something on a scale of 1 to 5, or 1 to 7? Most people tend to pick one of the numbers in the middle over the numbers on the edges. No matter what it is they are rating or what their actual opinion is if you asked them a different way. (This is actually a huge problem for things like performance evaluations, because when everyone gets rated “in the middle” it becomes impossible to differentiate between people!)
Why would this be?
Well, put on your own buyer’s hat for a moment: You’re probably familiar with this internal dialogue –
“Well, I don’t want something cheap, that won’t be enough / it must be lower quality. And I don’t want the most expensive, that’s a luxury. I don’t need to spend that much. I’ll go with the middle one!”
That middle preference, though, is reinforced by other subtle influences – we think the middle option is the most representative option, the one that makes us the most like everyone else (we don’t want to pick an extreme and stand out). Or that it’s the most important one, or – like Baby Bear in Goldilocks, that it’s the one that is “just right.”
Also? We are kind of lazy.
Even when doing something like answering a survey, people don’t like going to the mental effort to consider and report their real opinion. So if you give them a “neutral” option on a scale of 1 to 5, they’ll pick that rather than go to the effort of deciding.
This happens when people buy, too. When you give people a lot of choices, when the choices are complex, or when they are uncertain about their actual preferences, they will go with the thing that seems to minimize the work it will take to decide: They’ll take the one in the middle.
So what can we do about this?
Are people always picking the middle package, and that’s not optimal for you or them?
I’d simply make the middle package the thing you most want people to buy. That way they can feel like they’re picking the average/best/reasonable offer.
In this email, the photographer already established that the top package is the best value, so I’d just bump that one down to the middle and invent a new top package. (You might need to adjust the bottom package accordingly.)
Especially if people are choosing 15 images a la carte and it ends up being the same price as your top package anyway – this selection is most likely the way you’re framing the decision than any kind of absolute preference!
(Want another way to get people to buy your top package? Go grab How Clients Make Decisions About Money – it’s free!)
But there’s the second part to this mystery:
The photographer who sent in this question occasionally has a session where she doesn’t offer packages, only a la carte. And when she takes away the packages, she finds that people still order 15 images. Why would that be?
I’m guessing it’s partly –
Villain #2: The Anchor Effect – with some twists
People grab the first number they see and weigh everything else against it. Especially if they aren’t sure what’s typical.
If a client looks at your site and sees three packages of 10, 15, and 25 images, these might still become their “anchor” numbers because they will look ‘typical.’ They’ll say “okay, the average/middle/usual is 15 images,” and that weighs on their mind when they go purchase a la carte.
I looked at the website of the photographer who sent in this question, and sure enough, the packages are listed there. I can’t be certain, but I’d bet that a la carte clients had looked at her site and saw the package numbers and had that in their minds, even if they weren’t aware of it.
Here are two other possible explanations + things to play with:
– This photographer tends to show 25-30 images, and 15 is still a relatively “middle,” central tendency number. It could easily be a “10 is too few, not enough. 20 is too many, I don’t need them all. So 15 is about right,” – another Baby Bear style situation. That could change if she started showing 15 or 35 images instead.
– People also like whole, round numbers. Research shows that in a “pay what you want” type situation, people tend to pick round whole numbers – $5 rather than, say, $6.73. People like the ease of the mental math involved.
And in leaving tips, the overwhelming majority – 73% – leave whole dollar amounts, and another 8% rounded to the nearest half-dollar. A significant number of people also change their tip to make the final bill a round number – adding extra dimes and pennies to turn $24.57 into a simple $25.
We like stuff that is easy to add.
So if your a la carte price adds up to something like $300 or $500 or $900 for 15 images, you could be experiencing a rounding effect – people have an easier time calculating $20 x 15 than $20 x 17, and so it might simply feel more “sensible” to them. You could try raising the a la carte price $1, which would force them to pull out a calculator, or $5 or $10, to keep the easy math going but perhaps they’d buy more to end up at a “better” round number. Try playing with the price and seeing where the round numbers land.
In short – you are smart to assume that there is more at work here than just “people want 15 images.”
Sales decisions are highly influenced by a number of mental shortcuts, and knowing this can help you make a more workable price list.
(If you liked this post, check out that free mini class I mentioned – How Clients Make Decisions About Money.)