The Secret Price - Island of Sanity

Island of Sanity

Annals of Enterprise

The Secret Price

Many businesses seem to have the curious idea that it is a clever marketing technique to make a potential customer jump through hoops to find out the price of the product.

I once saw a magazine ad for a fancy electric lawn mower that went into great detail about how wonderful the product was but made no mention of price. They did refer to a web site, so I went there. There was a button labeled "Pricing", and when I clicked it, they presented me with a form requiring me to enter my name, address, telephone number, and email address in order to learn the price. At that point I said forget it, I'm not going to volunteer to be harassed by salesmen until I buy the product.

I recently wanted to take out some ads in magazines. So I went to the websites of about 30 magazines. Two of them had a page that was relatively easy to find and that clearly listed their advertising rates. A third had their rates in a PDF file that I could download, with the title "Media Kit". The rest required me to call a salesman to find out their rates.

I'm sure you've seen ads like this, that say "Call for pricing" or require you to give them your phone number or email address before they'll tell you the price.

I understand that some products and services must be custom built, so they can't tell you the price until they have more information about what you're looking for. If you say you want someone to create a web site for you or add an addition to your house, they can't give one standard price, it depends a lot on what you want. But this is a tiny subset of products. Like, I recently wanted to contract with a maid service to do some housecleaning for me. I understand that they can't just say, We will clean your house for X dollars. It surely depends on the size of the house, whether you have pets, etc. But couldn't they tell me their hourly rate without knowing my name and address, or give me some sample prices, like a description of some typical customers and what they charge them?

I really wonder what these companies are thinking. Perhaps they think that if I see the price in print or on a screen, I'll decide that it's too expensive and not buy, but that if I speak to a salesman, he'll talk me into it. Maybe they think that the salesman will be able to convince me that their product is worth the money, or that I'll be embarassed to admit that I can't afford it. I guess it could happen that way. But surely there will also be some number of customers who will say to themselves, I don't want to call and be embarassed if it turns out that I can't afford it, so I'll just skip this company and try somebody else. Surely there are some number of customers like me who don't want to call, find out it's more than I want to spend, and then be badgered into buying by a salesman. I certainly don't want to give them my name and address: that's just volunteering to be added to their telemarketing or spam list. I don't want the hassle.

Suppose I see an advertisement for a product and I say to myself, "I'd be willing to pay $50 for that." Then I call and -- no doubt after a long sales pitch -- they tell me that the product costs $60. Okay, I may go ahead and buy. But suppose I have totally mis-guessed the price, and it is really $500. I'm not going to buy it just to avoid the embarassment of admitting that I can't afford that price. So they're not going to get the sale anyway, and on top of that they'll wasted their salesman's time going through his whole sales pitch to a customer who can't afford his product. Now suppose instead I guess wrong the other way, suppose I look at an advertisement and say to myself, "Wow, a product like that must cost $500," when really it costs only $50. If they don't tell me the actual price up front, I'm going to assume I can't afford it, and they'll lose a sale.

Besides, I figure that if they're afraid to tell me the price, that probably means that it's too high. I wonder how many people can be badgered or sweet-talked into buying an overpriced product, versus how many people will avoid this company completely for fear of being badgered or sweet-talked into buying an overpriced product.

© 2008 by Jay Johansen


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