What’s the best way to sell a pair of $800 shoes?


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Here’s a great story that comes from William Poundstone and the book Priceless.

Some years back, the Williams-Sonoma chain offered a fancy breadmaker in their stores for $279.  After mediocre sales, they then offered an even higher priced model which was priced at $429. What do you think happened?

According to Poundstone, “The $429 model was a flop. Unless you’re running a boarding school, who needs a bigger breadmaker? But sales of the $279 model nearly doubled. Clearly there were people charmed by the idea of a quality breadmaker from Williams-Sonoma. The only thing that stopped them from buying was the price. It seemed high at $279. Once the store added the $429 model, the $279 machine was no longer seen as such an extravagance. It could be rationalized as a useful product that did nearly everything the $429 model did, at a bargain price. Adding another price point, even though hardly anyone choose it, increased the price consumers were willing to pay for a breadmaker.”

In this case, it’s not certain that Williams-Sonoma purposely added the $429 model only to juice up sales of the $279 model. But since then, retailers have understood that they have the power to manipulate consumers by adding contrasting products to their offering. Again, according to Poundstone, “when consumers are uncertain, they shy away from the most expensive item offered or the least expensive: the highest quality or the lowest quality: the biggest or the smallest. Most favor something in the middle. Ergo, the best way to sell a lot of $800 shoes is to display some $1,200 shoes next to them.”

Here’s the takeaway: The next time you walk into your favorite high-end store, don’t just look at the most expensive (and in some cases, outrageously expensive) item and ask the question “who would ever consider buying that?” Instead, look at how reasonable it makes other items for sale in the store appear. Sometimes the best way to sell a pair of $800 shoes is to display a pair of $1,200 shoes next to them.

Reader feedback is the lifeblood of this blog – whether you agree or disagree with what you’ve read, please feel free to post your opinions in the comments section below.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Patrick Lefler
Patrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group -- a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster by providing unique value at the product level: specifically product marketing, pricing, and innovation. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.


  1. It is very interesting how the human mind works, but this article is very true. Consumers tend to compare things, and white will show up more if you put it next to black.

    Great Article

  2. This marketing technique, whether intentional or not, absolutely works. I can think of several recent purchases. I have tended to stay toward the middle pricing. Thanks for this article. It’ll be helpful for me as I price my products and services.

  3. Dianne,

    Placing those $1,200 shoes next to the lesser expensive $800 shoes in order to increase sales is what behavioral scientists call anchoring – the common human tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor,” on one trait or piece of information (in this case the $1,200 shoes) when making decisions.

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Much appreciated.


    Patrick Lefler
    The Spruance Group
    Site: http://www.spruancegroup.com
    Blog: http://www.spruancegroup.com/blog
    Newsletter: http://www.spruancequarterly.com


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