Price Anchoring

What is Price Anchoring?

Price anchoring is a psychological pricing strategy where the initial price presented to consumers (the “anchor”) serves as a reference point for all subsequent judgments about value. When businesses place a high-priced “anchor” alongside lower-priced items, consumers perceive the lower-priced items as more reasonable or affordable.

There are a few ways anchor pricing works:

  • High-priced vs. discounted items
  • Price comparisons with competitors
  • Free trials with paid subscription options
  • Low-cost, middle-of-the-pack, and expensive pricing tiers

Regardless of the specific method, the goal is to influence consumer perception and decision-making. It’s also a way of showing your customers which products and services are most valuable (and to whom). And, since pricing is always relative, it serves as a baseline for comparison within your product catalog or against competing businesses.


  • Anchor pricing
  • Reference pricing

Price Anchoring Explained

Price anchoring’s effectiveness lies in its ability to exploit the way people process information and make comparative judgments. It subtly guides them towards the choices the choices that are best for them (or that your sales and marketing team want them to make).

Done right, strategically applying price anchoring significantly influences product positioning, sales performance, and customer retention. By setting an anchor price, companies can manipulate consumers’ perception of price fairness, value for money, and even quality.

For instance, introducing a premium product at a higher price point can make other items in the lineup seem more reasonably priced, driving up sales of products with better profit margins. Similarly, retailers often display original prices alongside discounted prices to highlight the savings, making the deal appear more attractive.

As a business, mastering price anchoring is crucial because:

  • It allows you to structure pricing in a way that maximizes profit margins and increases the perceived value of your offerings.
  • By effectively using price anchors, you can position your products more favorably to your ICP and distinguish them from competitors’.
  • Properly anchored prices lead to higher sales volume and long-term retention by guiding customers toward choices that actually benefit them.

From a buyer’s standpoint, awareness of price anchoring can lead to more informed purchasing decisions. Understanding that their perceptions of price and value may be influenced by initial price points allows consumers to critically evaluate offers and seek out true value, rather than being swayed by artificially constructed benchmarks.

Being knowledgeable about price anchoring empowers buyers to:

  • Resist impulse purchases triggered by advertised discounts or deals
  • Take a more analytical approach to evaluating prices and discounts
  • Make purchasing decisions based on actual needs and value rather than manipulated price perception

Psychology of Price Anchoring

Like several other types of psychological pricing, price anchoring operates on the principle that consumers rely heavily on the first piece of information they see when making decisions. The anchor price forms a psychological benchmark, against which all subsequent prices are evaluated.

This is called the anchoring-and-adjustment heuristic, and it isn’t limited to the realm of pricing alone. It’s is a general cognitive bias that impacts a variety of decision-making scenarios (e.g., negotiations, hiring, and investments).

Humans are rarely able to make absolute judgments; instead, they use previous information as a reference point when faced with new information. In other words, anchors serve as a shortcut for making decisions.

To better understand this concept, consider an example:

You walk into a store and see a $200 watch labeled “$400 $200.” Without comparing prices or evaluating your need for a watch, you immediately know that since the original price was $400, you’re getting a great deal on that watch. If the same watch had no initial price listed and was simply listed at $200, you’d be left to wonder whether it’s worth the price.

That’s a subjective judgment that price sensitivity, disposable income, needs, and preferences would influence. You won’t technically be able to answer even with the price anchor.

But, seeing the original price persuades you that it’s a good deal. If you decide you like the watch for other reasons (e.g., aesthetics, brand, quality), you’re happier with the purchase because it seems like a good value for your money.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Price Anchoring

Advantages for Businesses

Nearly every business uses anchoring because it creates win-win pricing strategies — customers clearly see the value they’re getting and have an easier time making buying decisions, while companies increase sales, revenue, and CLV.

Specifically, price anchoring allows you to:

  • Boost your profit margins. Presenting a premium product as an anchor can make other, less expensive options seem more attractive, potentially increasing sales of high-margin items.
  • Increase sales and conversions. For instance, by displaying discounts or promotions next to higher original prices, businesses can create a sense of urgency and savings.
  • Position your product effectively. Whether you’re trying to highlight a premium product or one that’s a better value for the money, price anchoring helps you instantly communicate what your product offers.
  • Segment your customers. Premium pricing strategies attract high-end consumers, while more affordable options can appeal to price-sensitive customers.
  • Enter new markets. For new products or services, setting an appropriate anchor price can facilitate market entry by establishing a perceived value in the consumers’ minds. This strategy can be particularly useful in markets with established competitors, as it provides a reference point that helps new entrants position themselves effectively.
  • Generate behavioral insights. Insights into purchasing behavior, preferences, and price sensitivity inform future pricing optimization, marketing, and product development.
  • Be flexible. Shifting the anchor points helps you respond to market dynamics, competitor actions, and consumer trends.

Disadvantages for Businesses

While price anchoring offers numerous benefits, there are problems with overusing or misusing it:

  • Risk of mispricing. If the anchor is set too high or too low relative to market expectations and competitor pricing, you might alienate customers or leave money on the table.
  • Consumer backlash. Overuse or transparent manipulation through price anchoring will cause buyers to lose trust in your brand.
  • Higher price sensitivity. While price anchoring can guide consumer perception in the short term, overreliance on discounting as an anchoring strategy devalues your brand over time.
  • Compliance and ethical concerns. Non-compliance with pricing laws and regulations (e.g., artificially inflating prices to make discounts appear more significant) can result in fines, legal action, and damage to the brand’s reputation.
  • Competitive counteractions. Competitors might respond to an anchor price by adjusting their own pricing strategies, potentially leading to a price war.
  • Difficulty in shifting perceptions. Once you establish an anchor price, it may continue to influence consumer expectations, making it difficult to increase prices or rebrand products at a later stage.
  • Overemphasis on price. Focusing too much on price anchoring can lead you to neglect other important aspects of your offering, such as product quality, customer service, and innovation.
  • Resource allocation. Developing and implementing effective price anchoring strategies can require significant resources, including market research, pricing analysis, and ongoing monitoring.

Price Anchoring Examples

In marketing, businesses use several different methods of price anchoring to influence and guide customer decisions. Let’s take a look at the most prevalent ones more in-depth.

Retail and Ecommerce: High-Priced vs. Discounted Items

Retail and ecom stores frequently employ price anchoring by initially listing items at a high price point and then offering them at a significant discount after a certain period. The idea is to make the discounted price appear much more attractive in comparison to the high-priced anchor.

For example, a sweater initially priced at $100 might be marked down to $50. The original price of $100 is presented with a slash. By comparison, the $50 price tag seems like a significant deal, even if the sweater’s intended price point was always closer to $50.

If a time-based element is included when marketing a product this way, it also creates a sense of urgency among customers to take advantage of the limited-time offer. It capitalizes on the consumer’s fear of missing out (FOMO), which drives purchases you might not have otherwise made at either the original or discounted price in the absence of the anchoring effect.

Telecom Companies: Price Comparisons with Competitors

Telecommunication companies use price anchoring when they their pricing with that of their competitors for similar plans. By presenting their prices next to higher-priced competitor plans, they anchor the idea that their offerings provide better value.

For instance, if Telco A offers a data plan for $45 a month while its competitor, Telco B, offers a similar plan for $60, Telco A’s advertising will highlight this comparison to anchor the $60 price point. By comparison, their own $45 plan seems much cheaper.

Streaming Services and SaaS: Free Trials with Paid Subscription Options

Plenty of streaming services and B2B SaaS vendors offer a free trial period (or freemium subscription) followed by a paid subscription model. The free trial serves as the anchor of $0, setting the stage for the perceived value of the service.

Once customers are accustomed to the service’s benefits during the free trial, the price of the subscription is assessed in light of the value they’ve already experienced. Since they’ve familiarized themselves with the platform, they can easily justify and accept the cost of a paid subscription.

B2B SaaS: Tiered Pricing

Software companies, especially those in the B2B sector, often offer their SaaS products in 3 to 5 pricing tiers, ranging from a basic, low-cost option to a premium, high-cost option. The presence of a high-priced premium tier serves as an anchor, guiding the majority of their customers toward the middle tier.

This is known as the “decoy effect,” where the highest price tier enhances the attractiveness of the mid-tier option, which is often strategically priced and featured to represent the best value for money.

This middle tier should be the most profitable option for the company. It should also be the one most customers will benefit from (premium tiers generally cater to enterprise customers, while low-end tiers are often too basic to meet most business needs).

People Also Ask

What is an anchor price in negotiation?

In negotiation, an anchor price is a starting or reference point meant to influence the other party’s perception of value. Setting an initial price guides their expectations, helps them understand product value, and potentially leads them to accept a higher final price.

Are there ethical considerations for using price anchoring?

Price anchoring is a manipulative tactic that takes advantage of human psychology to sway consumer decisions. If you use this strategy to deceive or exploit customers (e.g., by artificially inflating prices or creating false scarcity), it’s unethical and, in some cases, illegal.