Perception of affordability...


The story you are about to read is true.  The names would have been changed to protect the innocent but I can't remember them anyhow.

When I was a young snap I worked for Radio Shack.  Back when they actually had radios and it wasn't a cell phone store.  It was actually a lot of fun and I enjoyed it.  I was fresh out of high school and as most my age I lived from paycheck to paycheck with usually $3 in my pocket at any point in time.

It was typical for the district manager to come spend a day in the store just observing and working with the manager.  I was not the best salesman by any means but I did pretty well.  I had no idea just how close I was being watched on this day.

At the end of the day, John (might actually be his real name), the district manager came over to chat with me as I cleaned the display cases for the next day.  He said, "I noticed you sell a lot of the $7 and $14 multi-meters."  Now, we had meters from $7 to $150 all lined up nice in the display.  He was right, I sold a ton of those puppies.  He then asked me why I didn't sell the more expensive ones.  I explained that the cheaper ones did the job for the customers needs and he agreed that they probably did.

Then we chatted about some other things going on with the company and some upcoming training and such.  Pretty typical visit.

Then, just before he left he reached in his pocket and took out a $100 bill and handed it to me.  He told me not to spend it.  Just keep it in my wallet hidden away and forget I had it.  This was a strange request and he gave no answer as to why he wanted me to do this.  But, John was a cool guy.  I just shrugged and hid it away in my wallet.


A month goes by.

John comes for his usual visit and everything went as it always did as he wandered around with the manager and they left me to care for customers.

At the end of the day we chatted again.  The $100 had been totally forgotten by me.

John then mentioned casually that he'd noticed over the last month I'd sold a lot of the $75 and $100 meters.  Since I was the one who ordered them I could confirm that we kept running out of the more expensive models now.  I found it strange indeed that the customers were, all of a sudden, buying the better meters.

He then asked, "You really don't know why you sold the better meters?"  I shook my head no.

What he said then changed my life to this day, some 40 years later.

"Dave, you sold those more expensive meters yourself.  Nothing about the customers changed at all.  They came in wanting a meter and you sold them one, plain and simple.  It was you."  Now I looked more puzzled than normal.  "Do you remember that $100 bill I gave you to hold in your wallet?"  I did.

He went on to explain that before he'd given me that bill I had very little money in my pocket.  And I just assumed people walking through the door probably didn't have much more.  It's human nature to assume that even subconsciously.  So, I would sell them meters I thought they could afford.  $7 and $14 meters.

Since John had given me that $100 bill I subconsciously thought everyone had a $100 in their pocket.  I had put it out of my conscious mind but it was there.  So, I started selling the bigger and more expensive meters because, well, everyone could afford it, right?  Sure, I still sold some $7 meters but from that point on, I sold based on what's best for the customer, not what I thought they could afford.

It's not our place to determine what others can afford.  It's up to us to provide the best product or service and price it fairly and let the customer make the choice.

And yes, you can ask me at any time to see my $100 bill.  I always have one in my pocket...and for the last 40 years.