Successful Selling - November 2011
By Jim Dion
Have you ever purchased a product that you really liked, but, as soon as you arrived home, you logged onto your computer and Googled to see if you paid too much? If so, you have first-hand experience with cognitive dissonance, as well as insight into what some of your customers might be feeling after they purchase flooring from you.
Leon Festinger, a psychologist, first described cognitive dissonance in his book When Prophecy Fails, which was published in 1956. Although the concept has been around almost as long as humans have, it was not fully defined until this landmark work. The concept says that sometimes human beings will hold two conflicting (dissonant) ideas in their mind (cognitive) at the same time and will act to reduce this conflict between the opposing ideas by seeking confirmation of one of the ideas over the other.
The effect of cognitive dissonance in retail has been known for years. We often refer to it as “buyer’s remorse,” which is the concern that someone feels, generally after a large purchase, that they may not have done the right thing. One part of their mind is feeling good about the new purchase—maybe a car, a home, a TV, a dress or new tile for the bathroom—while another part is saying “That was a mistake! I paid too much! It is too big (or too small) or the wrong color!” In some cases, price is not even the primary issue.
I know a couple that talked about a kitchen remodel for years. They planned every component, right down to the size and color of the cabinet knobs. The floor that they chose was a large ceramic tile with a large pattern. The work was completed over a seven month “remodel from hell,” and once it was complete they threw a party with some friends.
One of the couples at the party commented that they had seen the exact same floor in a restaurant that they had eaten in a few months before and casually added that it was a “budget” place. For the next two months, the homeowners tried to identify every location that had this same style of tile and obsessed over whether the places were high end or low end. They looked for pictures of the tile installed in upscale homes, in expensive hotels or any location that would validate their decision. That one observation made by friends set them on a journey to reduce their cognitive dissonance.
Before we had the Internet, customers generally only felt cognitive dissonance after making a large purchase, such as a house or a car, and the dissonance was almost always over price: did I pay too much? The standard method for reducing the dissonance was for customers to keep a close eye on newspapers to make sure that the price or value was not discounted or lowered, and this was especially important if it was a home purchase.
What retailers face today is a lowering of the threshold for cognitive dissonance due to the ease of getting information. In the past, customers had to actively seek out information that would confirm the correctness of their decision. They did this by scanning newspapers, talking with neighbors and friends and going out of their way to find the price information. Today, we can have cognitive dissonance over a $5 purchase because information is so easy to obtain on the Internet. We can Google an item and find that we paid too much in a matter of seconds, and, if we have a smart phone, we can even find it out as we are leaving the store. Technology is making it so easy to research price that almost every purchase today is somewhat suspect in the customer’s mind. They can and do ask themselves if they overpaid, and now have the ability to answer that question in seconds with almost no effort. Think of how much greater the motivation when it is a $10,000 bathroom upgrade or a $30,000 kitchen makeover!
This new way of shopping makes it imperative that retailers do everything that they can to reduce and eliminate cognitive dissonance before it can manifest itself.
As a salesperson, there are a few simple ways to reduce cognitive dissonance in your customers. First, make sure that you deal with vendors that do not sell to online discount sites where your customer can find a lower price with a simple search. Look up items that you carry on a continuous basis to make sure you know that you are not being undersold. This is a good reason to use product numbers that customers cannot easily trace or find cost information on.
Second, when you do have items that are priced higher than competitors, make sure you tell your customers why your prices “may appear to be higher” when, in fact, (because of guarantees that you offer and your convenience and service), your prices are actually lower. After all, you hopefully spent some time uncovering their unique needs before suggesting the absolute perfect product or solution (something that cannot happen online).
Third, end every customer encounter with a simple reminder that they cannot make a mistake buying from your store because you will always protect them. In other words, if there is any problem with the product, you are going to make it right for them. If you installed the product, then call the next day to ask how they feel. Often just listening and reassuring them in those early moments can stop dissonance from building and causing serious issues a week or more later. One simple call goes a long way toward diffusing cognitive dissonance before it becomes a serious complaint or, even worse, a customer that never comes back and mentions their displeasure to a few hundred friends on Twitter or Facebook!
Remember, deal sites, web merchants and big box stores have almost no opportunity to build a relationship with the customer—only you have that ability (if you choose to use it). Therefore, they have much less opportunity to reduce cognitive dissonance than you do. Use your ability to reduce dissonance every chance you get with every customer you have.
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