Spooky Thought: Your Customers Aren’t Rational

Every day, you make business decisions based on analysis, research and rational thought. On this day before Halloween, what if I told you a scary thing? Your customers aren’t rational. They don’t make decisions based on rational thought and logic, even when they say they do. Which means all of your careful, rational planning doesn’t necessarily influence your customers to buy more, refer more or rave more.


This article isn’t a horror story, though. There’s good news. According to author Dan Ariely, your customers (and everyone else, too) are Predictably Irrational. In his 2008 book, Ariely explores the field of behavioral economics, what motivates us, what influences our decisions and how this fits into our marketplace and world.

In the very first chapter, Ariely provides real, solid business advice that you can start using today. I’ll give you a teaser: You can increase sales of your high-margin products by offering a similar product that is clearly a worse choice. Ariely’s research shows that people are compelled to compare and prefer to compare similar choices.

For example, let’s say you are picking out a family dog, and you want a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel. You don’t know if you want a boy or girl, though. There are three puppies to choose from, two male and one female. One of the males and the female are friendly with your kids, healthy and romp around playfully. The other male growls and has a runny nose. Probability says you’ll choose the healthy, friendly male puppy. Ariely posits this choice is because it’s easier to compare two male dogs than a male dog and a female dog. Since the healthy, friendly male puppy is clearly better for your family than the grumpy, sick male puppy, the first male puppy starts to look like the overall superior choice. (Don’t worry. No puppies were harmed in the making of this example. The sick puppy went to the vet and is all better now.)

For the full research behind the tip and to gain an interesting, entertaining and better understanding of how economics works and affects your life, go buy–and read!– Predictably Irrational. Your business will thank you.

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