What Are Incidental Prices and How Do They Affect Willingness to Pay

Source: AI generated image (Dall-e)


  1. Definition of Incidental Prices: Incidental prices are prices of unrelated products that consumers encounter by chance and that may influence their willingness to pay for other items.
  2. Success Stories: Examples of success include classic car auctions and strategies from brands like Apple and Nike, which use high prices to anchor consumer expectations.
  3. Advantages: Increased willingness to pay and improved pricing strategies.
  4. Challenges: Potential consumer confusion and the need for the right balance between high and low prices.
  5. Recommendations: Careful selection of anchors, proper context, price balance, strategic use of ad repetition, and implementation ethics are key to applying this strategy effectively.


Have you ever wondered why being exposed to prices of products you don’t care about can influence how much you’re willing to pay for something completely different? Consumer psychology reveals that incidental prices, those prices of unrelated products that we casually encounter in our environment, can have a surprising impact on our purchasing decisions. Understanding this phenomenon can help you develop more effective strategies to reduce the price sensitivity of your products.


Imagine you have a booth at a local trade show, and you decide to display a low-cost product, such as a coffee mug, next to a higher-priced item, such as a branded backpack. Without realizing it, customers who see the price of the backpack might be willing to pay more for the cup of coffee than they would in a normal situation. This effect, documented in academic studies, shows how incidental prices can influence willingness to pay.

A clear example of this dynamic can be seen in classic car auctions. This study found that when buyers were exposed to elevated car prices before making their own bids, they tended to bid significantly higher amounts for subsequent cars. Exposure to high prices, even of unrelated products, anchored their expectations and increased their willingness to pay.

Another notable case is that of online stores that use advertisements for high-priced products to influence purchasing decisions. This other recent study showed that prices presented in banner ads can alter internal reference prices, affecting their perception of the value of similar products. This technique has been successfully used by large retailers to increase their sales.

In addition, well-known brands such as Apple and Nike have applied incidental pricing strategies to influence the perception of value of their products. For example, Apple is known for presenting its most expensive products first, which sets a high price anchor in the consumer’s mind, making other products seem more accessible in comparison. Nike uses a similar technique on its website, showcasing high-end products before presenting more affordable options, which can lead consumers to perceive greater value in cheaper options.

Advantages or Benefits

Understanding and applying the incidental pricing strategy can offer multiple advantages for entrepreneurs and marketers. For example:

  1. Increased Willingness to Pay: Incidental pricing anchors the consumer’s perception of value, increasing their willingness to pay for other products, as evidenced by studies and brands such as Apple and Nike.
  2. Increased Sales and Profits: Manipulating price perception through incidental anchors can increase sales and profits, as observed in auctions and online stores.
  3. Adaptability: It is an adaptable strategy in both physical and digital contexts, being effective in online stores, auction sites and physical points of sale.
  4. Ease of Implementation: It does not require significant changes to the company’s pricing structure, making it easier to implement by presenting pricing strategically.

Disadvantages or Challenges

While the incidental pricing strategy offers numerous benefits, it also presents certain challenges to consider:

  1. Potential Consumer Confusion: Exposing consumers to high prices for unrelated products can cause confusion and a negative shopping experience.
  2. Limited Impact on All Products: Effectiveness can vary depending on the type of product, being less effective for products with well-established prices in the consumer’s mind.
  3. Need for Equilibrium: Excessive exposure to high prices can alienate consumers if they perceive most products to be expensive.
  4. Context Dependency: This strategy is less effective on platforms where consumers can easily compare prices, such as in e-commerce.
  5. Risk of Negative Perception: If consumers perceive the strategy as manipulative, it can damage the brand’s reputation, so it should be implemented subtly and ethically.

Implementation Recommendations

To successfully implement the incidental pricing strategy, consider the following recommendations:

  1. Careful Anchor Selection: Choose high-priced products such as visible and accessible anchors before the products you want to sell.
  2. Context and Location: Implement the strategy in environments where consumers can’t easily compare prices.
  3. Proper Balance: Maintain a balance between expensive and affordable products to prevent consumers from feeling overwhelmed.
  4. Frequency and Repetition: Use ad repetition strategically. Repetition can strengthen the anchoring effect, especially with low prices.
  5. Ethics and Transparency: Implement the strategy ethically to avoid negative perceptions. It justifies the high prices presented as anchors.


The incidental pricing strategy is a powerful tool for influencing consumers’ willingness to pay. Exposing customers to high prices for unrelated products can anchor their expectations and increase the perception of value of other items. This technique has been used successfully in physical and digital contexts, such as classic car auctions and in online stores such as those of Apple and Nike.

It’s crucial to select proper anchors, maintain a balance between expensive and affordable products, and use ad repetition strategically. In addition, considering the context and being ethical in implementation is critical to avoid negative perceptions and maximize effectiveness.

By understanding both the benefits and challenges of incidental pricing, you can use this technique to improve your pricing strategies and increase your sales. With a balanced and ethical approach, incidental pricing can be a valuable addition to your sales strategies.

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