The Anchoring Effect as a Cognitive Bias

The Anchoring Effect as a Cognitive Bias

An anchoring effect is the tendency for the brain to rely too much on the first piece of information it received in relation to decisions made later on.

No.2 of 36 cognitive bias insights unveils the anchoring effect, another coping mechanism that allows the brain to process vast amounts of input. While the mechanism is very effective, its limitations cause errors in decision-making.

What is the anchoring effect?

An anchoring effect is often seen with examples of was/now pricing. A higher price might deter a shopper from making a purchase. However, when the brand or retailer presents a lower sale price, the original higher price serves as the anchor, making the new sale price seem like better value.

What's an example of the anchoring effect?

A famous example of anchoring in action was when The Economist, offered three subscription options: a web-only subscription, which cost $59; a print-only subscription, which cost $125; or both web and print, which also cost $125.

Given these options in a study, no subjects chose the print-only subscription, which was the clearly inferior option. The majority chose the combined print and web subscription. However, when they removed the print-only option, 68% of people chose the web-only subscription. Even though nobody was interested in the print-only option, it served as an anchor to make the more expensive, dual subscription seem like a much better deal.

The anchoring effect in retail

Shoppers need context and what they see first will and does anchor them.  So, if you want shoppers to anchor to your brand in-store, there are a number of aspects you should consider.

  1. Own the initial anchor - When shoppers first approach the aisle and bay your brand resides in, what is the first number they see? If it is a price and you are not the cheapest, create another visually impactful numerical anchor. For example, how many servings in a pack or how many grams in a pack?
  2. Create your best context – What numbers show your brand in the best light? Are you the cheapest, heaviest, least fattening, or something else? Find the number you want to anchor shoppers to and then shout it, shout it loud.
  3. Make your best value obvious - If your brand offers the best value, make sure to present the numbers (price, cost per litre, etc.) in a way that make cross brand comparisons easy.

In summary, anchoring gives you a great way of making your brand look disproportionately appealing. But equally, the wrong anchor can seriously damage brand performance. So, find your best numbers and communicate them effectively.

The Anchoring Effect is no.2 in my series of 36 cognitive biases. Why not check out no.3, Attentional Bias?

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About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

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Phillip Adcock
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

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