Tuesday, August 15, 2006


You want fries with that?

Back when I was in high school, I worked at McDonald's. They taught us about "suggestive selling". That's where you try to get the customer to buy more stuff by... suggesting it. Like when the waiter comes over at a restaurant and asks if you want anything from the bar, or after the meal, when you're offered coffee and dessert.

I just put something on my amazon.com "wish list". In case you don't know, they do the same thing, what a friend of mine calls the "You want fries with that?" feature, harking back to days at McDonald's. They do suggestive selling in a number of spots as you wade through their system, and one of those spots is the wish list. I see a few items in each of three categories. "Customers who bought [the item I just added] also bought [these]." "Customers who shopped for other items in your Wish List also shopped for [these]." And "Top Sellers."

It's the last that particularly interests me, because it's not offering me anything related to what I'm buying, or what I've shown that I want or like. There's no connection between that category and me. It's simply saying, "Hey, Barry! Buy what everyone else is buying!" In the academic game "Propaganda", this falls into the "jump on the bandwagon" technique.

This differs, though, from the related ploy of selling our brand of laundry soap because it's "the best-selling brand," or "more consumers choose" it. That really is suggesting that our brand is better, and so more people buy it. But no, this is simply telling me to buy something because it's popular, the ultimate "junp on the bandwagon" appeal. Everyone's wearing paisley this year; you should buy a paisley shirt, even if you've always hated things that resemble paramecia. Everyone's listening to the Mad Def Rutabagas; how can you show your face without them on your iPod? Get with it, dude.

It's ever been so, of course, but each movement of technology makes it more widespread. And what adds interest is the realization that they can manipulate the popularity more than ever. Do I really know that the DVD of "Inside Man" is a Top Seller, or do they just have an overstock that they can't get rid of? (OK, it's got Denzel in it, so that one's probably for real.) I have to take their word for it.

And, of course, they have direct feedback — they know whether you clicked on it, they know whether you took the bait. In a real store, they don't know how much time you spent looking at the display, for the most part, but online every mouse click provides more input for their suggestive-selling system. That ought to be good, ought to work for your benefit by helping them present suggestions that you really would be interested in. Which is why the "Top Sellers" category is particularly out of place. For what it's worth, I refuse ever to click on an item they suggest to me. It's my little "civil disobedience" quirk.

They also make suggestions while you're simply looking at an item, offering another item that you might want to buy at the same time. Buy these items together, for this joint price! Have you noticed that the joint price is exactly the sum of the individual prices? They're not offering you a savings, but they're making it seem that they are. Well, some while ago I was looking at recordings by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. They suggested that I might want to buy Ma's recording of the Bach cello suites together with a book about yo-yos.

There are still a few bugs in the system.

1 comment:

scouter573 said...

Years ago, I bought a new (used) car with a crappy radio in it. As a teenager with a new car, I had to have a better radio - just HAD to have a better one - so I went to the local car-stereo store in the local mall. They had a big display of radios ON SALE! Each one had a starburst sticker on in displaying the ON SALE! price. Being an engineer at heart, I carefully peeled up the starburst ON SALE! sticker to see just how much I was to save by buying this radio. The answer? Zero. The ON SALE! price was exactly the normal on-sale price. I pointed this out to the salesperson and he paused for a second. Then he offered to give me a 10% discount because I was such a clever guy.

From this, I have learned two lessons. First, every price is negotiable. Second, to ask exactly what one is getting.