Pricing, User Behavior, and Your Website

As consumers, we have a lot of things about prices in our heads. We have some price points stored, for one thing. These vary from one person to another, and one community to another, but they’re surprisingly fixed for each of us.

For example, in my neighborhood, $15 is the price of a birthday gift for a kid’s birthday party. When we go shopping for that kind of thing, we pretty much just look at items in that price range.

It’s almost a definition: the price of a sandwich is $6.00, the price of a haircut is $30… It’s not that we don’t know, if these are our definitions, that 99 cent sandwiches and $200 haircuts exist. They’re exceptions to our rule, though, and we’re less likely to consider them than people whose schemata for the world include the price of a sandwich is 99 cents and the price of a haircut is $200.

We also have information about how prices are presented on websites. If it’s a good price, then it’ll be in large numbers on the homepage: ONLY $9.95! If it’s on its own separate pricing page, then we’re looking at a moderate price. If there are no prices anywhere on the website, then we’re in “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it” territory.

One of my clients has a problem with this issue. She has one product essentially, with two different delivery systems. One option is $24.95. To me, that’s the price of a haircut, a pizza, a book. If I’m convinced that I need the item, I’ll just click on it and buy. The other option is $600 plus a per-use fee. $600, to me, is a month’s groceries for a family, a modest vacation, a nice software package. I’m not going to click on that and buy it just like that. I’d want more information.

Here’s the problem: the website currently gives the same user experience for both options. The prospective buyer goes to a contact form. Fill it out, a salesperson will call.

If I’m going for the $24.95 option, I don’t expect a sales call. The possibility of a sales call, in fact, will cause me not to buy it. I don’t expect a personal pitch and a cup of coffee every time I buy a book. If I have to fill out a contact form in order to buy something at that price, I suspect that there’s more to it — a forceful upsell, a pricey subscription, modeling school?

But if I’m going to invest $600 and then also pay a per-use fee, I figure I deserve that cup of coffee. I have questions to ask the salesperson.

The solution is two different paths for the two different prices.

I’m working on a non-profit website that has a similar situation. Visitors are asked to enjoy lots of wonderful resources for free. They’re also asked, if they want to help keep those resources free, to consider contributing to the project in a number of different ways: become a fan on Facebook, give $5 a month, sponsor a book to the tune of $54,000.

You don’t have to woo people much to link to your excellent resource. You have to impress them a whole lot to contribute what some people would define as the price of a year’s work. You don’t want to alarm the casual visitor with a donation request like that. Neither do you want to make it difficult for the enthusiastic donor to offer that significant donation.

One of the designers I’m currently working with,Tom, sent me a link to an ecommerce site that finesses the whole question of price by leaving that information out — but also describes the product as “affordable.” Oh yeah? Yet the website that Tom and I are working on says nothing about price. It’s about custom-developed software. Visitors won’t expect such a product/service to be the equivalent of a sandwich or a haircut, even if it’s affordable custom-developed software. Nor will they expect to be able to put such a thing into a shopping basket with a click.

Check your website with this in mind. Does the mechanism you offer your visitors jibe with the mental set-up they have for your product and its pricing? Does the path fit the level of investment you’re asking for?







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