How Our Brain Determines if the Product is Worth the Price | HBS Working Knowledge

Are consumers more likely to buy if they see the price before the product, or vice versa? Uma Karmarkar and colleagues scan the brains of shoppers to find out.

by Carmen Nobel

Think of the last time you went shopping.

By the time you decided to buy a product, you knew both what you were buying and how much it cost. But was your decision affected by whether you saw the price or the product first? That’s the question at the heart of new experimental research that uses neuroscience tools to shed light on how our brains make purchasing decisions.

“We were interested in whether considering the price first changed how people thought about the decision process, and whether it changed the way the brain coded the value of a product,” says Uma R. Karmarkar, a neuroscientist and assistant professor in the Marketing unit at Harvard Business School, who conducted the research with Baba Shiv, a marketing professor and neuroeconomics expert at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, and Brian Knutson, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Stanford. “Because we had neuroscience tools at our disposal, we had the benefit of exploring both those questions,” Karmarkar says.

“WE WERE INTERESTED IN WHETHER CONSIDERING THE PRICE FIRST … CHANGED THE WAY THE BRAIN CODED THE VALUE OF A PRODUCT.”

The researchers found that price primacy (viewing the price first) makes consumers more likely to focus on whether a product is worth its price, and consequently can help induce the purchase of specific kinds of bargain-priced items. Their study, Cost Conscious? The Neural and Behavioral Impact of Price Primacy on Decision-Making, will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Marketing Research.

The research could help retailers and marketers decide when it’s best to lead with price, which products work best with that strategy, and how to frame sales messages to consumers. (HBS related research on how consumers view pricing can be found in the article Deconstructing the Price Tag.)

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How Our Brain Determines if the Product is Worth the Price – HBS Working Knowledge – Harvard Business School.