Decoy Effect in Pricing: Strategies for Business Success

Best practices in price monitoring 21.9.2023. Reading Time: 5 minutes

In the ever-evolving landscape of business, pricing strategies stand as a fundamental pillar of success. In a world where consumers are constantly bombarded with choices, how do businesses ensure that their products or services not only stand out but also drive revenue? 

The answer lies in the intricate realm of behavioral economics, and one of its most intriguing phenomena: the Decoy Effect.

decoy effect in pricing

What is the Decoy Effect?

Have you ever wondered why you sometimes choose one option over another when faced with multiple choices? The Decoy Effect, also referred to as the asymmetric dominance effect, is a cognitive bias that subtly nudges us toward certain decisions, often without us even realizing it.

Understanding the Decoy Effect is like peering behind the curtain of human decision-making. It’s a captivating psychological phenomenon that reveals how our choices can be subtly influenced by the presentation of options. By grasping the intricacies of the Decoy Effect, we gain valuable insights into the art of persuasion, pricing strategies, and consumer behavior. It’s a lens through which we can see the hidden forces that shape our decisions, both as individuals and in the marketplace.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the intriguing realm of the Decoy Effect, exploring implementation strategies, ethical considerations, and how it plays a pivotal role in shaping the choices we make.

The Power of Anchoring

The power of anchoring, in the context of the Decoy Effect in pricing, is akin to setting the stage for a psychological performance. 

decoy effect

Anchoring refers to the human tendency to rely heavily on the first piece of information, or the “anchor,” when making decisions. When strategically combined with the Decoy Effect, anchoring can create a dynamic pricing strategy that sways consumer choices in desired directions. By introducing a high-priced option as an anchor, businesses can make the decoy or target option, seem more attractive and reasonable by comparison. 

This subtle manipulation of perception can lead customers to choose the product or service that the business ultimately wants to promote, thus illustrating the remarkable influence of anchoring within the intricate dance of pricing strategies.

Strategies for Implementing the Decoy Effect

Implementing the Decoy Effect as part of a pricing strategy requires a nuanced approach to consumer decision-making. 

One effective strategy involves creating a carefully crafted set of choices that include the target option and a decoy option. The decoy should be deliberately designed to make the target option appear more appealing in terms of value or quality. For instance, if you’re selling a medium-sized coffee for $3 and a large coffee for $4, introducing a decoy option like an extra-large coffee for $5 can make the large coffee seem like a better deal. Consumers are more likely to choose the large coffee as it appears to offer the best value in comparison to the higher-priced, impractical extra-large option. This strategy leverages the Decoy Effect to guide customers toward the choice that benefits your business the most.

Additionally, it’s crucial to ensure that the decoy option isn’t so extreme that it alienates customers or makes them question the legitimacy of your pricing. Striking the right balance between the options and understanding your target audience’s preferences is the key to successfully implementing the Decoy Effect. 

decoy effect examples

Moreover, periodically reviewing and adjusting your pricing strategy based on customer feedback and market dynamics can help fine-tune the effectiveness of the Decoy Effect within your business model. Ultimately, mastering the art of implementing the Decoy Effect demands a deep understanding of consumer psychology, pricing dynamics, and a keen eye for crafting options that nudge your customers toward the choices you want them to make.

Case Studies of Successful Businesses

Several successful businesses have harnessed the power of the Decoy Effect to boost their sales and enhance customer satisfaction. A prime example is Netflix, which implemented this strategy in its pricing plans. By introducing a decoy option – a slightly more expensive plan with additional features – alongside its standard plan, Netflix was able to make the latter appear as a more attractive choice. Customers perceived it as a better value, and this strategy significantly increased the adoption of the standard plan, contributing to the streaming giant’s continued growth.

Another notable example is Apple, known for its skillful use of the Decoy Effect in product pricing. When launching new iPhone models, Apple typically offers three versions with varying features and price points. The mid-tier option often serves as the decoy, making the more expensive model seem like a premium choice, even though it’s often just a marginal improvement. This strategy not only influences consumers to opt for the pricier version but also cultivates an image of exclusivity and innovation, further solidifying Apple’s position as a tech industry leader. These case studies demonstrate how astute businesses strategically employ the Decoy Effect to shape consumer decisions, enhance their offerings, and ultimately drive success in their respective markets.

From the business point of view, these are all great examples, but is this approach completely ethical?

Ethical Considerations

The ethical considerations surrounding the use of the Decoy Effect in business practices are complex and multifaceted. 

On one hand, employing this psychological technique to influence consumer choices is a common and legal aspect of marketing and pricing strategy. However, ethical concerns arise when the Decoy Effect is used in a manner that may be perceived as manipulative or deceitful. 

Businesses must tread carefully to ensure that they provide genuine value to customers and avoid exploiting cognitive biases. Transparency and honesty should be paramount, with businesses making sure that the decoy options genuinely align with customer preferences and needs. Striking a balance between leveraging the Decoy Effect to drive sales and maintaining ethical business practices is crucial in building and preserving trust with consumers, as ethical considerations become increasingly central to corporate reputation and customer loyalty.

Key Takeaways

The Decoy Effect in pricing strategies offers a wealth of insights for businesses seeking to enhance their success. 

First and foremost, understanding the power of psychological biases in consumer decision-making can be a game-changer. By strategically introducing decoy options that make a target choice more appealing, businesses can steer customers towards preferred products or services. However, maintaining ethical practices and transparency is paramount to avoid eroding trust. 

Furthermore, anchoring, or setting a reference point, is a potent tool when combined with the Decoy Effect. Anchors can prime customers to perceive the target option as a better value. To leverage these strategies effectively, businesses must continuously analyze customer behavior and preferences and adapt their pricing models accordingly. 

Ultimately, mastering the Decoy Effect requires a delicate balance between influencing consumer choices and maintaining ethical integrity, but when executed thoughtfully, it can be a powerful catalyst for business success.


Ana Popovic
Ana Popovic is a Digital Marketing Specialist at Price2Spy. She's a sociologist who found her place in the eCommerce world. As such, her love for writing has led her to discover the beauty of content marketing and given her the opportunity to inform people about eCommerce and pricing topics.