Could Shell (or others) lure you to the expensive middle?

GasPumpImageAs I was standing at the gas pumps, cringing and preparing to fill the tank again, I noticed this Shell station’s clever use of a psychological shortcut. Do you see it?

You might reasonably assume that the three product options—Regular, V-Power, and Plus—would be arranged according to price with the lowest-priced variety on the left. However, the Shell people placed their highest-priced gas variety right in the middle.

Perhaps they did an online search and found this column which demonstrated how consumers tend to respond to a “center-stage effect.” People tend to disproportionately select product options that are place in the center, even when the number of choices or product features are varied.

If the options were lined up from least- to highest-priced, then more Shell customers would probably go for the mid-octane, mid-priced Plus. But in this array, I suspect more customers selected the high-octane V-Power. The use of red and a more powerful brand name don’t hurt, either.

Recognizing the tactic, I didn’t fall for it. Heh, heh.

I don’t see anything wrong with what the Shell folks did here—it’s smart marketing in my book—but it does go to show how consumer psychology permeates our decisions (at both the business and personal levels). The lesson is that you can sell more from the center.

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