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When It Pays to Offer an Inferior Choice

Posted by: Today's Tip Contributor on April 7, 2011

Sometimes a client or customer is frozen into indecision because of tradeoffs among the prices, features, reputations of the brand and vendor, and predicted ease of use, among other qualities of several products. Research from the University of Toronto suggests that one way to dislodge ties is to introduce a new alternative that is clearly inferior to one of the items being considered.

Here’s my adaptation of the researchers’ example: A customer comes into an electronics store to buy a printer. The customer narrows the choices to two and then pulls out an article she brought to the store with her because the article includes authoritative ratings of printers. Printer Model A, at a price of $180, has a rating of 50. Model B, for $260, received a rating of 70. The customer can’t decide between the two and finally says she wants to look at other stores.

The salesperson replies, "May I show you one more model I think will help you decide? We carry a complete selection of printers, so I hate for you to have to go shopping somewhere else." The customer agrees to look at one more printer.

The salesperson presents a model from a manufacturer that does a lot of advertising, but has recently not received high ratings for their printers. If asked, the store’s staff doesn’t give the model high recommendations. Still, they carry the model because people ask for it based on familiarity with the advertising.

The salesperson says, "The price for this model is $180, like Model A, but if you check your article, you’ll see it received a rating of 30, not the 50 that Model A received."

The University of Toronto researchers report that the introduction of the inferior alternative often dislodges the tie and results in a purchase decision. With this set of facts, the choice is more likely to be Model A.

Bruce D. Sanders
Consulting Psychologist
Vacaville, Calif.

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