Why We Fall for Adding Upgrades

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Price comparisons are an invaluable way of managing our budgets and our needs. We can look at an array of options, ranging from premium to basic, and realize that the souped-up version of that laptop or even that brunch special just isn't worth it for us. Retailers know how to work around that instinct, though — and we fall for it with more than a little regularity.


Researchers at the University of British Columbia have just published a study looking into why we decide to spring for one product but get suckered into paying more for another. The short version? We don't remember the most basic rules of addition. An item that goes for $75 costs less than one that's $100, but when we're offered a $25 upgrade, it seems cheaper despite coming out to the same price.

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"When you see '$50 more' as an add-on price, it's a smaller number than the total, and we focus on that smaller number," said coauthor Dale Griffin in a press release. It's the same kind of psychological shortcut that compels us to buy at a 99-something price and to feel more satisfied when we spend at round numbers.


Just because you're human doesn't mean you're susceptible to this marketing trick, though. "Individuals who are very careful and deliberate when making decisions naturally compare prices whether they are expressed as included or as add-ons," said another coauthor, David Hardisty. If you find yourself worrying about making the wrong decision, to the point of not choosing anything at all, don't panic. That's just your brain being weird too.