One of many curious effects of order: it can cause us to purchase higher. Suk, Lee and Lichtenstein (2012) found that consumers are more likely to purchase higher-priced items when inventory is listed in descending order. Why is this? It seems that by priming the consumer with the idea of a “higher quality” item (we tend to associate expense with quality), as the consumer scans down the list of products, they begin to associate each subsequent product with a lower quality, and are thus more likely to purchase the initial product or products. The researchers call this a “reference-dependence theory” mental framework: the first item you see becomes the reference from which you base your opinion of subsequent findings (Suk, Lee and Lichtenstein, 2012). The other side of this phenomena is that when prices are listed in ascending order, a consumer’s reference to those primary inexpensive or bargain items creates a mindset in which they count losses as they read down the list of increasing costly items, rather than thinking of quality.
The chalkboard at your local coffee shop will list their most expensive drink at the top—and they will get away with charging more for it than the last time you were there—simply because you will accept it as the most well-crafted drink of the bunch.
Prime yourself! If you’re on a budget, decide what you want before you step into the shop—that way, if your extra-cappa-frappa-mocha isn’t really worth $10 to you, you’ve already made up your mind to find another item.