Tag Archives: shopping

Selling Premium Goods

In a short profile of ‘luxury sales consultant’ Jean-Marie Brücker, we discover a few psychological techniques he teaches to his clients on how to sell high-end luxury goods:

  • Describe an item in terms of its ‘value’ rather than it’s ‘price’ or ‘cost’.
  • Sell a story (‘romance’ and ’emotions’) rather than ‘products’.
  • The macaroon technique: sandwiching the price “between the product’s more romantic benefits”.
  • Harbour and elicit positive emotions–they sell (e.g. compliment your customer on their existing items, even if they’re from your competitors.
  • Don’t discount. Gift instead (discounts get forgotten, free gifts don’t).
  • Create contrast between old, existing items and new ones.
  • Suggest ‘sorry-gifts’ for those who may lay guilt on the purchasing party (e.g. their partner)

As ever with these things, I believe you could summarise it as: play on and exploit a customer’s emotions (happiness, guilt, etc.) while using subtle linguistic tricks to disguise the price.

These happen to be key tenets of casino marketing, which revolves around flattering men, distracting their wives, and keeping them around as long as possible; the longer they stay, the more likely they are to spend money. But Mr. Brücker was never disdainful of customers—in fact, he championed the need for better, more thoughtful service that makes the customer sense caring and quality —the stuff of luxury.

“You’re selling pure emotion,” he said. “That’s why I love this job.”

Buying Cashmere

Like linen, buying cashmere is a matter of discovering the important metrics and discarding the unnecessary.

The truth about quality cashmere is much more complex than simply looking for that pure cashmere label.

Pure is not an absolute term. The finest cashmere consists only of the whitest, longest, thinnest hair from the underfleece, whereas lower-quality cashmere may be either the shorter, coarser hair from the undercoat–typically from the rear end of the animal rather than its belly–or, more dubiously, shorter hair that has either not been properly dehaired or, worse still, blended with yak or rabbit hair. […]

Yet even cheap cashmere can feel lovely. It’s hard to know, as you queue at the till, whether your bargain will pill or sag within days. (Pilling afflicts expensive cashmere too, though it should stop after the first wash.) But there are subtle signs of quality, and once you’ve got your eye in, much of the cheaper cashmere on the market starts to seem a false economy.

Look for tension in the knitting: stretch a section and it should ping back into shape. Hold it up to the light and you shouldn’t see much sky: paradoxically, the best cashmere, though made from the finest hair, has a density to it. Examine its surface: fluffiness suggests the yarn was spun from shorter, weaker fibres and will pill. Be sceptical about softness, too. Over-milling can make a garment too soft and silky, and therefore prone to bobbling and losing its shape. More expensive cashmere may be harder to handle in the shop, but will ease up with wear and hand-washing. The best cashmere actually improves with age–so long as the moths don’t get to it.

Buying Linen: Thread Count Marketing

Remember that numerical specifications drastically influence our choices: even if they’re meaningless and contradict our personal experience?

The same goes for thread count, it seems: Textiles expert Mark Scheuer calls it a “marketing ploy” and tells you to forget about it when purchasing, while Linenplace says it is a metric we should consider–just not the most important one–offering ‘the truth about thread count’ (via Kottke):

In a quality product, the incremental comfort value of increasing thread count over 300 is very little. A 300 thread count can feel far superior to a 1000 thread count. Thread count has become a simple metric used by marketing people to capture interest and impress with high numbers. The problem with mass produced high thread count sheets is that to keep the price down, important elements of quality must be sacrificed, meaning in the end the customer gets a product with an impressive thread count but that probably feels no better (or even worse) than something with a lower thread count.

Toronto-based Au Lit Fine Linens goes one further, suggesting that while thread count is important, where the cotton is grown (its quality) and where and how it is woven is what matters most.

Egyptian cotton is acknowledged to be the finest cotton in the world, just as the Italians are renowned for their long-standing tradition of weaving. The softness of your sheets depends more on the quality of the fiber, which is why a 220 thread-count sheet can feel softer than a 500 thread-count sheet that uses an inferior grade of cotton or a twisted thread. (The lower thread-count sheet using Egyptian cotton and woven in Italy will also last longer than a higher thread-count sheet woven from inferior cotton.)

The crux: ignore thread count, buy 100% Egyptian cotton woven in Italy.

An Analysis of Supermarket Checkout Times

An analysis of supermarket checkout times has shown that express lanes (for people with fewer than 5 items, say) are not always the most efficient checkout route for time-sensitive shoppers.

Dan Meyer, a high school maths teacher, has done the hard work (providing his data and analysis) and came to the following conclusion:

[Express lanes] attract more people holding fewer total items, but as the data shows […], when you add one person to the line, you’re adding 48 extra seconds to the line length (that’s “tender time” added to “other time”) without even considering the items in her cart. Meanwhile, an extra item only costs you an extra 2.8 seconds. Therefore, you’d rather add 17 more items to the line than one extra person!

via Kottke

Psychological Pricing and Other Shopping Persuasion Techniques

The endowment effect, sex in advertising and pricing anchors: all bits of ‘shopping psychology’ we’ve heard before.

Ryan Sager looks at these shopping persuasion techniques we should be aware of, adding a few small pieces of information that may be novel:

  • Endowment effect: We place a higher value on items we own, and just by simply trialling goods (trying on clothes, testing software, cars, etc.) we start to feel ownership.
  • Ownership imagery: Feelings of ownership (see above) can be induced by thought alone.
  • Romantic priming: We (men, not women) increase spending on items of conspicuous consumption when romantically primed (i.e. induced to think about sex, men purchase items as a signalling behaviour).
  • The ninety-nine pence/cent effect (psychological pricing):

A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that when pens were priced at $1.99 and $4.00, only 18% of the participants chose the higher-priced pen; but when the pens were priced at $2.00 and $3.99, 44% of the participants selected the higher-priced pen.