August 19, 2009

The Price Might Not Be Right

My brother's 18th birthday was coming up, and I needed a card. Since Hallmark doesn't seem to have made it to San Francisco, I went with Papyrus. I found the birthday cards, and spent ten minutes picking one out. None of the cards had prices on them- but it was just a card. How much could it be?

I headed to the counter, where I got my answer— eight dollars. Eight dollars? For a birthday card for my brother? I bought the card (after all, I was invested in it— I had spent some time deciding on it), and left.

If you look at any of the A/B tests I have run on larger commercial sites, you would see a similar trend. People are much more likely to go through with a purchase if you do not show them the price until the last possible moment. Why is this? Google Analytics is always a bit fuzzy on the why, but we can guess. Maybe it is because they are already invested in the product? Maybe it is because the more they see, the less they think the price is unreasonable?

There is a time and a place for eight dollar cards— however, my brothers birthday was not one of them. Rather than turning to Papyrus when I do need an expensive card, however, I am now bitter towards them. Had I walked in and saw the cards were a bit pricey, I would have left and made a mental note that it's a great place for a nice anniversary card. That is one of the problems with A/B tests— you cannot quantify the most important variables. While my purchase shows up as a conversion for the store, they lost me as a future customer. An A/B test would count my visit as a success, and would never have known Papyrus lost out on my yearly Mothers Day business.

Statistics cannot track when people tell their friends "it was a bit expensive for me, but you should check it out." Statistics cannot track when someone thinks "this is not what I am looking for, but these are reasonably priced— I'll come back later."

So, before you take the price off your online products just because they numbers say you should, think about what is more important— your brand, or making a few bucks off a conversion.

And if people are still leaving your site when they see the price— maybe you are charging too much? Lower your price, don't resort to tricking your potential customers.

About Gregory Koberger

I'm a freelance developer and designer, formerly of Mozilla. I talk a lot about web development, technology and user experience — sometimes on my blog but mostly on Twitter.

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