The Blog Library
So we’re standing in this rug shop in Tunisia, with colorful carpets lining the walls and overflowing into dusty stacks in the corners.
A friend and I had climbed a swirling, tiled staircase, and emerged, blinking, into this visual feast of hand-knotted Berber rugs. But for a few buzzing fluorescent lights overhead, we could easily have just stepped back a century or three.
Content to take in the scene rather than actually buy a carpet, I stood and admired the colors lit by the March sun beyond the window.
Then – whomph! – I felt someone drape a carpet around my shoulders.
The owner, apparently tired of all this standing around, took matters into his own hands. I’m pretty sure Berber carpets aren’t meant to be worn, but there he was, wrapping me in it, insisting I look up close at the fine quality.
I looked ridiculous – like a fruit roll-up with a face – but had to agree. The carpets felt thick, sumptuous, and heavy.
We’ve all been accosted at one time or another by someone shoving their wares into our hands, spritzing us with perfumes, or encouraging us to “take it for a test drive.” We’re understandably wary of replicating these icky-feeling tactics when we want to sell photography products.
But I’m here to tell you, take a sales tip from the Tunisian carpet seller:
Make sure your clients get their paws on your products.
You’d think it’d be the opposite, wouldn’t you? A desk, once you shlep it home from the store, ding it up a little with your laptop, and spill a little raspberry tea on it, shouldn’t be worth as much as it was brand new, right?
Yet once it’s “ours” – we’re not eager to give it up. People are incredibly averse to the idea of losing something they have.
So when you ask people how much they’d be willing to sell an object for, and how much they’d be willing to pay for it, the answers differ in a predictable way. Research shows that for a simple object like a coffee mug, people will demand twice as much money as they thought the mug was worth before they’d sell it.
And, conversely, if they had to buy another mug, they’d be willing to pay only half of what they’d want to sell theirs for.
The endowment effect sounds like a bummer for selling stuff to people, doesn’t it? That people are only willing to pay a fraction of the price they themselves would demand?
What if you could make people feel like they owned something before they actually purchased it?
What if you could take the way the endowment effect changes people’s perception of worth, and make them feel that way before they actually bought it?
When people hold an item, their perceived ownership of that item increases.
Perceived ownership is different from legal ownership, of course, but it’s just as real. Like a kid at a playground who pitches a fit because that bouncy horse is “MINE!” even though it’s public property, we can take psychological ownership over things that aren’t actually ours. (Sometimes this is good, like taking perceived ownership in our community or organizations we belong to).
When someone holds an object, perceived ownership increases, even though it’s not actually ‘theirs’ yet. This can affect buying decisions to such an extent that, as researchers Peck and Shu noted, in 2003 the Illinois State attorney general issued a holiday warning that shoppers should be aware that retailers would ask them to hold objects or imagine them as theirs, and that this could lead to unplanned purchases.
Additionally, other research has found that the longer someone holds an object, the more they’re willing to bid for it later. This indicates that even just perceived ownership can increase how much someone thinks that object is worth.
Turns out that draping that carpet around me, and encouraging me to handle and examine it up close, was one of the most powerful strategies a carpet seller could use.
How can this help a photographer?
In general, photographers spend most of their time getting clients to interact with their digital files, not their physical products.
Blogs, websites, Facebook – all do a great job showing off our work in digital form. But if you’re trying to sell canvases and iPhone cases, do not neglect to physically hand them one.
Not just a picture of a canvas, but a canvas. Not just a swatch book of album cover materials, but an actual finished album.
There’s no substitute for the way someone’s face lights up when you hand them a 20×30 and they get to touch and understand for themselves what you’re recommending.
Because it’s not just their face that’s changing – it’s how they feel about the object, how much they think it’s worth, and how much they want it.
(Side note: If you want more info like this on how people make decisions about buying, be sure you’ve grabbed my free e-book.)
Of course, a sample canvas won’t have their image on it yet, but you can help them imagine what it’d be like. Though it’s a topic to fully explore another day, imagination can also increase perceived ownership. You can also enhance the experience by using an app like Preveal or plain ol’ Photoshop to show them what their images will look like in a display, and print out small proof prints (it’s not that expensive) to let them handle their images on paper while they decide what to buy.
Bottom line: You are losing out one one of the best sales tools if someone is not holding the object you intend for them to buy.
P.S. And speaking of great sales tools, be sure to grab my free e-book about how clients make decisions about money.)