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Priceless

The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It)

By William Poundstone
13-minute read
Audio available
Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It) by William Poundstone

Priceless (2010) explores the psychological reasons behind the value and price we give to things. Through numerous experiments and case studies in pricing, the author explains how prices influence our purchasing decision and exposes companies that use pricing to increase profit.

  • People curious about pricing their products
  • Anyone interested in the psychology of value and price
  • Customers interested in reviewing their purchasing decisions

William Poundstone is the author of various nonfiction books, including Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? and Fortune’s Formula.

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Priceless

The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It)

By William Poundstone
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It) by William Poundstone
Synopsis

Priceless (2010) explores the psychological reasons behind the value and price we give to things. Through numerous experiments and case studies in pricing, the author explains how prices influence our purchasing decision and exposes companies that use pricing to increase profit.

Key idea 1 of 8

Prices are relative – we can’t estimate them without a reference point.

What should a jar of peanut butter cost? Maybe you know because you often buy it. But what about a pearl oyster? You probably have no idea.

Although we’re sensitive to price differences, we aren’t always able to estimate an item’s fixed price, or its absolute monetary value. But are the prices we see in a supermarket fixed? If they were, you’d be happy to pay $10 for a bottle of red wine from one vineyard, no matter what a similar bottle of red wine from the vineyard next door costs. As you know, it simply doesn’t work that way. Why? Because prices are relative – they depend on each other.

Here’s a question for you: Would you be able to guess the exact weight of an object just by holding it in your hand? What about if you held a lighter object that you knew the weight of first? People find the second task much easier, as psychologists have known since the 1800s.

It’s just the same for prices: Consumers can say which product should cost more, but can’t estimate what a product should cost without a reference point. For example, if before an auction you asked bidders what their top bid would be, most of them wouldn’t know for sure. Why? Because it depends on the first bid, and how much others are willing to pay.

If you aren’t an auction bidder but just a regular consumer of supermarket peanut butter instead, you’ll have a better chance at estimating how much you’d pay for a jar. By buying the product frequently, you’ll learn and remember the average price. But could you remember the price of a jar of sun-dried tomatoes you bought for a dinner party last year? Perhaps not! Our memories of prices are limited, and it’s nearly impossible to remember all the prices you see in the supermarket.

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