Why You Always Pay Too Much

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), January 9, 2011 | Go to article overview

Why You Always Pay Too Much


Byline: Martin Vander Weyer

Priceless: The Hidden Psychology Of Value by William Poundstone Oneworld [pounds sterling]12.99 % [pounds sterling]12.49 inc p&p ****

In the modern world, in which so much information and choice is instantly available online, you might think we would all acquire a finely tuned sense of value for money - that we would learn to act like our own price-comparison websites.

But in practice, as William Poundstone explains in this entertaining canter through the psychology of pricing, we are deeply (and to scientists in the field, predictably) irrational when it comes to spending money. And the commercial world bombards us all day long with signals designed to increase our confusion.

If you're wondering what I mean, pop into your nearest mobile-phone shop. How can all those handsets really be 'free'? How can you compare contract deals if you have no idea of the relative cost of calls, emails and texts? You can't, and likely as not, you'll take a decision that has little to do with logic. You might decide a 'special offer' looks attractive just because it's cheaper than the one placed next to it, even though the more expensive deal has more benefits. Or you might be influenced to spend more than you intended by (let's be honest) the attractiveness of the salesperson.

Well, I hear you say, that's life: we are flesh and blood, not calculating machines. But what's compelling about Poundstone's thesis is the revelation that so many businesses deliberately exploit our foibles.

Next time you're in a fancy restaurant, for example, look closely at the menu. Not at the dish descriptions, but the typography, which may well have been designed by a consultant in 'psychophysics' - a science I'd never heard of until I read Priceless. …

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