It makes sense to include prices when writing about products or services. For readers the price is often the most important piece of information.
But there’s a problem with this.
Retailers use psychological pricing to trick customers in to thinking prices are lower than they are. Even if you’ve never heard the term before, you’ll be familiar with the idea.
Psychological pricing is when retailers price an item at $1.99 or another number ending in 9.
Researchers at New Zealand’s Massey University found 60% of prices on goods advertised in the local newspaper end in 9.
Other research shows consumers focus on the left-most digits in a price. So they think an item priced at $1.99 is considerably cheaper than one at $2 even though the real difference is just 0.5%. And retailers wouldn’t give customers change if they handed over two dollars.
The journalist’s job
The journalist’s job is not to sell a company’s product. We are not sales or marketing people.
Our job is to inform readers. We aim for accuracy. And this is where some run into a problem.
Informing readers means we shouldn’t play retailers’ Jedi mind trick games. We should write $1.99 prices in our copy as $2. That’s often the amount readers will pay.
On the other hand, accuracy demands we are sticklers for detail and list the price as $1.99.
Why I often simplify .99 prices
There are three reasons why journalists should round-up psychological pricing.
First, rounded-up numbers are technically wrong, but if the theory of psychological pricing is correct, the way the reader understands a rounded-up price will be closer to reality.
Second, rounded numbers are simpler. You more immediately understand what spending $2 will do for you finances than spending $1.99. The price information flows faster to the readers’ brain – this is a key goal in journalism.
Third, the inaccuracy involved is minor. When 99 cents rounds up to $1, the result is 99% correct. With all other prices the accuracy is greater still. Rounding $9.99 to $10 is just 0.1% out.
I can’t always round numbers up
Where I’ve worked as editor or publisher, I make the editorial style rules for my publications. These days I work as a freelance journalist and have to abide by other editors’ style guides. You may find of my copy doesn’t round numbers up – that’s usually because it isn’t my call.