Bias and manipulation


I have a confession to make. As it relates to the battle of wills, I am known to succumb to good sales people every time I go shopping. It’s even worse near Christmas when I’m getting desperate to find better gifts than a gas-station jug of washer fluid.

I bought so much junk that I didn’t intend to buy that I had to take a step back and figure out what had happened to me. It turns out we’re all victims of our own minds. There are so many hidden biases trapped in our minds that it’s almost amazing we don’t constantly trade our houses and cars for magic beans.

So I looked into it a bit. It turns out we anchor our choices to a single trait when making a decision. If the salesperson knows this (and which trait to target), they only have to convince you of the one useless (but superior) feature in order to make the sale.

We also like to think we’re always right, so we look for support of a previous decision. Again, if the salesperson knows this, they can push the right buttons. This is part of the reason salespeople always ask you what you’re looking for – it’s much easier to encourage an existing opinion than to change it. That’s also probably why I bought this year’s release of the same crappy phone I was unhappy with last year – somehow it was still a good move in my mind.

These effects don’t just occur when we’re purchasing something new, but also when we’re being sold “add-ons” like extended warranties. For some reason, I’m happy to pay more to prevent the malfunction of something than I would be to just buy it for the first time. Evidently this happens to a lot of people, since they have a name for it: the ‘endowment effect’.

The surprising part of these biases is that they work on us even when we’re aware of them. And further: we all believe we are less biased than everyone else. This is related to our universal belief that we’re all above average (despite the mathematical difficulties inherent in this claim). Somehow, ninety percent of us believe we’re better than average drivers. But alas, ninety percent of skilled sales people probably already knew that.

Are your sales staff aware of these behaviour biases?  Do they utilize them when making sales?

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Posted on January 11, 2012, in Consumer Psychology Files and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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