2010年8月30日 星期一

Illuminating advice on the dark art of ‘drip pricing’

Illuminating advice on the dark art of ‘drip pricing’


“You inched towards the dark side,” joked one behavioural economist after he read a recent column in which I hinted that his field has some merits. It was a quip that got me thinking, because behavioural economics does indeed have a dark side. Behavioural economists study the psychology of economic decision-making, and if they are any good at their task they will discover something the unscrupulous salesman could use to his advantage.


A behavioural economist turned rogue would exploit the “endowment effect” – a tendency for people to put a higher value on something that they feel they already own. He or she would also try to create the sense that consumers would lose out if they did not buy, because people seem to hate the idea of losing £5 much more than they like the idea of gaining £5.

一个从行为经济学家转行的无赖会利用“禀赋效应”(endowment effect)——这是一种人们将更高价值赋予感觉自己已拥有物品的趋势。他(或她)同样会试图制造出一种感觉:即如果消费者不购买,他们就会吃亏。因为人们对于失去5英镑的痛恨,似乎要远甚于获得5英镑的欣喜。

Third, our rogue economist would attempt to suggest an “anchor” value that was much higher than the asking price, which would make the product seem cheap. It doesn’t seem to be hard to create such anchor values: they can be produced by inviting experimental subjects to write down the last two digits of their social security number.


Fourth, he or she would make the pricing as complex as possible so that people struggled to compare one offer with a rival offer. Fifth, he or she would try to create a sense of social approval – everyone is buying this. Finally, a rogue economist would throw in something free.


Many unscrupulous salesmen have figured this advice out for themselves already. Think of infomercials. “The TimCo smokemaster doesn’t retail for £200; it doesn’t retail for £100; it doesn’t retail for £50 … ” (anchoring to a price of £200) … “if our lines are busy, please try later” (social approval) … “the smokemaster is not available in regular stores” (loss aversion) … “but wait! When you buy the TimCo smokemaster you get the TimCo soup knife absolutely free” (complex pricing and use of “free”).


The UK’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has been turning to behavioural economists for advice on such tactics, and has found that there is no pricing scheme more pernicious than “drip pricing”. Under the scheme, customers agree to pay a price only to discover that there is a charge for delivery; another charge for paying by credit card, and another for insurance. Drip pricing taps into the endowment effect, because customers feel that they have already made the decision to purchase; it creates loss aversion because customers commit time and effort to the search before being hit with extra charges; and it is a form of complex pricing which makes it hard to compare offers.

英国公平交易办公室(Office of Fair Trading)一直在向行为经济学家求助,寻求应对此类伎俩的建议。他们发现,最缺德的花招要算是“水滴定价”。在这种招数中,消费者同意支付一个价格,但不成想随后送货要收费;使用信用卡支付也要收费,另外还有保险费。水滴定价利用了禀赋效应,因为客户觉得自己已做出了购买决定;它形成了损失厌恶感,因为在遭遇额外收费前,消费者已经在求购上投入了时间和精力;同时这也是一种复杂的定价方式,使消费者难以对价格进行比较。

The OFT research, conducted by consultants and academics at University College London, was based on a laboratory experiment in which students sat at a computer and were presented with hypothetical deals from two fictional retailers. The students were beguiled with various marketing tricks and had to decide from whom to purchase, in what quantity, and after how costly a search. There was no trick quite so guaranteed to confound them as drip pricing, in which they were hit first with an extra charge for handling and then with a charge for shipping. (A two-part drip is modest: according to the OFT, one package holiday provider used four unavoidable “drips”, and two computer retailers tacked on seven optional ones.)

由伦敦大学学院(University College London)的顾问和学者进行的OFT研究基于实验室试验,在实验中,一些学生坐在一台电脑前,面对2家虚拟的零售商提供的假想交易。学生们要面对各式各样的营销花招,必须决定在付出多大代价的搜索后,从哪家购买,以及购买多大的数量。在让学生们上当方面,没有哪种花招像水滴定价那样十拿九稳。在实验中,他们先是遇到了处理费用,然后是运费。(由两部分组成的水滴定价招数还算是普通的:OFT表示,一家旅行社提供的方案包括4颗无法避免的“水滴”;而2家电脑零售商则附加了7个可选项)。

The OFT has been firing warning shots about drip pricing, but it will have its work cut out to regulate it – there is usually some loophole through which price drippers can slip. Buyers should remember that if they walk away when the drips start to fall, they won’t get soaked.