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  • Writer's pictureJim Payne

How to make your price seem small?

The ultimate example of how to make a number seem to be small is the famous McDonald’s case were a jury awarded a woman $2.7 million in punitive damages after she had spilled scalding hot coffee on herself. How did the jury come up with that number? The woman’s attorney on several occasions during the trial had postulated that one or two days’ worth of McDonald’s worldwide coffee sales would be fair estimation of her pain and suffering. McDonald’s coffee sales were $1.35 million at the time and the jury decided two days was indeed a good number.

Does using the worldwide sales of coffee to figure out how much to compensate someone for pain and suffering make any common sense? Absolutely not. They could just as easily used the US only coffee sales or the actual medical costs plus $10,000 or even just ordered the reimbursement of her $.87 cost for the coffee.

To most of us $2.7 million seems way over the top, but not to the jury. This is an example of using anchoring to make a number seem small. The jury heard repeatedly “just one or two days’ worth of coffee sales” which made the award seem kind of small. Anchoring works since we tend to compare a second number with the first number we hear. Presenting your price as the second number to a much larger number will always make it seem smaller.

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