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  • Writer's pictureHigor Barbosa

Behavioral Economics Anchoring: Maximizing the Impact of Prices on Consumer Perceptions in E-commerce



Anchoring is a cognitive bias that causes people to rely on initial information when evaluating subsequent information. This initial information is referred to as the anchor and can be a number, a word, an image, or any other stimulus relevant to judgment.


In Behavioral Economics, anchoring is one of the principles that explain how people make irrational or suboptimal decisions, deviating from the logic of economic rationality. Throughout the buying journey, this concept can impact various aspects of consumer decisions, such as willingness to pay, satisfaction, loyalty, and trust.


However, one of the most relevant domains for applying anchoring in Behavioral Economics is that of prices, as they are crucial pieces of information for consumers, indicating the monetary value of a product or service. Nevertheless, consumers do not evaluate prices in isolation but in comparison with other references, which can include prices of similar products, previous prices, suggested prices, or even competitor prices. These references act as anchors influencing perceptions of value and attractiveness of prices.


Psychology Behind Anchoring

Anchoring can also be viewed as a psychological phenomenon grounded in two cognitive processes: selective activation and insufficient adjustment. Selective activation occurs when the anchor captures the attention of consumers and activates in memory information associated with the anchor. This information can be positive or negative, depending on the valence of the anchor. For instance, if the anchor is a high price, consumers may activate in memory information about the quality, status, exclusivity, or scarcity of the product. If the anchor is a low price, consumers may activate in memory information about distrust, low quality, obsolescence, or abundance of the product.


Insufficient adjustment takes place when consumers, after activating information associated with the anchor, attempt to adjust their estimates to take into account other available information. However, this adjustment is typically insufficient, as consumers tend to give more weight to the anchor than to other information. Moreover, the adjustment is influenced by factors such as motivation, ability, time, and consumer confidence. The higher the motivation, ability, time, and confidence of consumers, the greater the adjustment. Conversely, the lower the motivation, ability, time, and confidence of consumers, the smaller the adjustment.


Practical Examples of Price Anchoring

Price anchoring is a marketing strategy that involves using a price point as an anchor to influence consumers' perceptions and decisions. It can be employed in various ways, depending on the goals, context, and segment of each company. Below, we present some practical examples in e-commerce:


- Amazon: Amazon is one of the world's largest e-commerce companies, offering a wide range of products and services. Amazon employs price anchoring in various ways, such as displaying the list price and the sale price, creating a sense of savings and urgency for consumers. Amazon also shows product prices in different currencies, allowing consumers to compare prices and choose the most advantageous option. Additionally, Amazon offers free shipping for purchases above a certain value, encouraging consumers to increase their cart value.


- Netflix: Netflix is one of the world's largest video streaming companies, offering original and licensed content. Netflix utilizes price anchoring by offering different subscription plans, varying in image quality, number of screens, and access to extra features. Netflix uses the higher-priced plan as an anchor, making consumers perceive the cheaper plans as more attractive and affordable. Netflix also offers a free one-month trial, creating an expectation of value and satisfaction among consumers.


- Booking.com: Booking is one of the world's largest lodging reservation platforms, offering accommodations in various destinations. Booking employs price anchoring by displaying the original price and the discounted price, highlighting the savings and opportunity for consumers. Booking also shows the number of people viewing the same offer, recent reservation numbers, and the number of available rooms, creating a sense of scarcity and demand among consumers.


Strategies for Price Anchoring in E-commerce

In light of the examples above, it is important to emphasize that there are various ways to use price anchoring to maximize the impact of prices on consumer perceptions in e-commerce. Below, we will explore some practical strategies for price anchoring in e-commerce:


  • Price Comparison: One of the most common forms of price anchoring in e-commerce is price comparison, which involves displaying the price of a product in relation to another product. This could be a more expensive alternative, a similar product, a complementary product, or a previous product.


  • Packages and Bundles: Another anchoring strategy is to create packages and bundles of products that have a total value higher than the combined individual prices. This makes consumers perceive the added value of the products and feel attracted to the offer. For example, if an e-commerce sells a laptop for $2,000 and offers a bundle including a backpack, a mouse, and headphones for $2,100, the consumer is likely to think they are getting a better deal by purchasing the bundle, as the value of the additional items is higher than the price difference. This strategy can increase the average order value and customer loyalty.


  • Competitor Analysis: A third anchoring strategy is to use competitors' prices as anchors to strategically position one's own prices. This prompts consumers to compare available options in the market and choose the one that offers the best value for money. For instance, if an e-commerce sells a book for $50 and indicates that the same book costs $60 on another site, the consumer is likely to perceive it as a good deal to buy from the cheaper site. This strategy can enhance competitiveness and the e-commerce's reputation.


Ethics in Price Anchoring

Despite being a powerful tool for influencing consumer behavior, price anchoring should be used with ethics and responsibility. This means that e-commerce should be transparent and honest when presenting information about prices, products, and services. Under no circumstances should one deceive, manipulate, or lead the consumer into error, as this can result in dissatisfaction, complaints, returns, legal actions, and damage to the company's reputation.


In this way, some practices that should be avoided include:


- Using false or inflated prices as anchors that do not correspond to the reality of the market or the value of the product.


- Creating false scarcity or urgency, which pressures the consumer to buy without time to evaluate options.


- Offering packages or bundles that do not add value or contain unwanted or unnecessary products.


- Comparing prices with irrelevant competitors or those that do not offer the same purchasing conditions.


Advantages of Price Anchoring in E-commerce

When used ethically and strategically, price anchoring can bring various advantages to e-commerce, such as:


  • Positive Influence on Perceived Value: It can contribute positively to the perceived value of products by prompting consumers to evaluate the product in relation to a reference point that favors the offer. This can increase satisfaction, recommendations, and repeat purchases from consumers.


  • Stimulates Decision-Making: It can serve as a stimulus for quicker and more effective purchase decisions by reducing uncertainty, complexity, and cognitive effort for consumers. This can increase conversion rates, customer retention, and loyalty.


  • Increased Conversion Rates: It may result in higher conversion rates by positively influencing variables that affect the purchasing process, such as intention, motivation, trust, and consumer preference. This can lead to an increase in the volume, value, and frequency of consumer purchases.


  • Adaptation to Different Market Segments: It can be adapted to various market segments, allowing for customization of offers based on consumer characteristics, needs, preferences, and behavior. This can enhance the relevance, attractiveness, and suitability of offers for consumers.


Anchoring in Marketplaces

In marketplaces, where price comparison is a constant, sellers face the challenge of understanding and dealing with anchors that are beyond their individual control. As these anchors affect the perception of value, it is crucial to explore strategies that allow sellers to navigate this dynamic landscape.


To overcome these challenges, sellers can adopt adaptive strategies. By understanding the anchors used by competitors, sellers can strategically position their products in the marketplace. Creating perceived value, whether through bundles or exclusive offers, provides a differentiated approach, positively highlighting products in price comparisons.


Another strategy that can amplify the effects of anchoring in the 3P model is the introduction of a sense of scarcity. By restricting the availability or duration of an offer, sellers have the ability to generate a sense of urgency and fear of loss in consumers. This approach, in turn, directly influences purchasing decisions, promoting quick and immediate conversion.


In light of these facts, it is important to state that, by adopting anchoring strategies, it becomes evident that sellers in marketplaces can not only boost sales and optimize performance but also establish a differentiated and competitive position in the online market. This theory not only encourages customer loyalty but also strengthens the reputation of sellers in a highly diverse and competitive environment.


Conclusion

Anchoring in behavioral economics proves to be a valuable tool in the e-commerce landscape, exerting a significant influence on consumer perceptions and decisions regarding prices. By understanding the psychology behind this cognitive bias, companies have the opportunity not only to optimize their performance metrics but also to strengthen relationships with consumers and consolidate their competitive position in the dynamic online market.


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