I came across a funny cartoon the other day that captures an interesting aspect of our purchasing behavior. We are perfectly willing to spend $4 on coffee (for some of us this is a daily purchase), or $500 on devices that you can argue we don’t really need. However, when it comes to buying digital items, such as apps, most of which are priced at $1, we suddenly get really cheap. Why?
Here are some reasons. The first is that we are anchored by the price of categories, so when we think about lattes, we compare only across beverages. When we think about apps, we only compare across digital downloads. Thus, when we think about buying a $1 app, it doesn’t occur to us to ask ourselves what the pleasure that we are likely to get from this $1 app — or even what is the relative pleasure that we are likely to get from this app compared with a $4 latte. In our minds, those two decisions are separate.
So now the question becomes, why is the price anchor for apps so low? I think the answer to this is that we have been trained with the expectation that apps should be free. Having lots of free apps on the App Store is clearly advantageous for Apple, because it makes their devices more attractive. However, because FREE! is such a special, exciting price level, it makes the thought of paying even $1 for an app into an agonizing decision.
I think this could have been avoided. Imagine if instead of offering free apps on day one, Apple instead created a really low minimum price–say $0.15. Lots of people would still go for Apps at this price, but instead of being anchored to the idea that apps should be free, we would be anchored to the idea that apps should cost something. Then paying more (maybe even $2) for an app would be a simpler step, maybe one that we could take as easily as paying $4 for a latte.