Printing prices in red fools men into paying more, research finds
Retail research provides insight into how men approach shopping
Instead of examining advertisements or price tags closely, men search for “clues” to help in their decision-making, according to research. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
Women adore shopping, men hate it, goes the old saying. However, the latest evidence suggests that men, far from being the sceptical, detached ones, are the most likely to be conned, particularly if the shop uses lots of red ink.
“If you want to convince a man he’s getting a bargain, print the price in red,” say researchers from the Said Business School at the University of Oxford in an article titled, ‘Are Men Seduced by Red? The Effect of Red Versus Black Prices on Price Perceptions’, published in The Journal of Retailing.
Instead of examining advertisements or price tags closely, men search for “clues” to help in their decision-making, says the research team, Nancy M Puccinelli, Rajesh Chandrashekaran, Dhruv Grewal and Rajneesh Suri.
In a bid to support a theory that men associate red with pleasure, the reactions of students at a US university were repeatedly tested to see if they found that prices marked in red offered greater value than those printed in black.
“The fact that men tend to read advertisements only superficially was emphasised by their inaccurate recall of prices when questioned after having seen an ad. For example, on average, they remembered the price of a microwave as being $15 lower than it actually was,” they report.
The evidence is particularly evident in car advertisements: “Research finds that when consumers evaluated cars on a website with a red background with flames (vs. a green one with dollar signs) they were less likely to identify price as an important attribute in car choice.
“[They] would go on to choose a more expensive car. That is, the colour red seems to lead people to be less price-conscious and lead them to choose more expensive options,” the four academics found in an analysis that runs to 115 pages.
Meanwhile, “subtle changes” in presentation by retailers can have an impact. “Ads featuring sale prices in a smaller font than regular prices were seen as offering better value than when sale prices were in a larger font.”
However, if women have by now lost the confidence to send men out to the shop, there is still hope, they argue, since a solution is achievable: the male must be taught to pay attention.
“Past research suggests that if men are made more involved in the task they will be motivated to process an ad more systematically,” they said. “We expect the effect of the red among men to be diminished when the level of involvement is high.”