The Money Question: Should You Include Prices in Your Marketing Materials?

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Should businesses include prices on their marketing materials, landing pages, websites, etc? One school of thought says no – get customers in the door with free offers or discounted pricing, then, once they understand the value of the product or service, hit them up with the prices.

That theory can work … sometimes. But hiding prices can often have the opposite effect on consumers, especially online buyers. I’m going to illustrate one reason why hiding prices doesn’t work for me. It starts with a personal story about trying to buy a magazine.

Why I Didn’t Buy a Magazine Subscription

Last week I was reading the online version of an industry publication (I won’t say the name, but it’s a very genre-specific writing magazine). I liked one of the articles so much that I decided right then and there that I wanted to buy the print subscription.

So I clicked on the “Subscribe” button. The next page that came up was a registration page. I looked all over the registration page for the price of a 1-year subscription. Nada. I clicked back a page and looked for a price. No luck. I turned to the “FAQ” page, thinking that maybe pricing options would be available there.
Still nothing.

It seems that, before I could find the price of the magazine and make an informed decision about whether or not to buy, I had to register with my name, email, and mailing address first. Then, presumably, I would be taken to a checkout page where I’d input my credit card info.

In short, that particular publication lost my business. I gave up without buying my subscription, and I haven’t regretted it since. I was frustrated that I couldn’t find a price ANYWHERE on the website and nervous, too: while most magazines cost around $25 for a year’s subscription, I know all too well that some magazines can cost upwards of $100. Plus, I didn’t want to add my name, email, and mailing address to the company’s marketing database (and endure the many emails and postcards that were sure to follow) if I didn’t know if I could afford to subscribe to the magazine in the first place.

The Consumer Dilemma About Pricing

Should you include your prices … or not? In most instances, there aren’t a lot of ethical problems with underscoring your prices. But there are plenty of reasons why hiding your prices can hurt your conversions for potential customers. Here are four of the reasons why I opted not to buy when I couldn’t find a price:

If there’s not a price, I probably can’t afford it. This was my very first thought about the magazine – there must be a reason they don’t want me to know the price. Were they scared that I’d suffer a bad case of sticker shock? Is their magazine priced way above their competitors? I really can’t say, but my general mentality is this: People who opt in to buy something must have tons of disposable income, or they don’t care about their money. I’m neither one of those. By not including any prices, this magazine alienated me, made me hyper-aware of my bank account balance. Newspaper headlines started flashing in my mind: unemployment, foreclosure, bankruptcy. I became a nervous, self-conscious consumer, and ultimately decided to hold on to my money instead of spending it.

The company must be hiding something. I’m all about transparency – especially in this day and age, when my consumer confidence in even the largest and seemingly trustworthy businesses is at zero. Hiding prices doesn’t necessarily mean that a company is trying to rip off their clients, but it also doesn’t boost my confidence in the company. After searching for a price for 2-3 minutes, the warning bells went off in my head: I thought to myself, What else aren’t they telling me? I immediately became suspicious. And suspicious people don’t buy anything unless they’re comfortable.

I don’t feel informed enough to make a financial decision. Sure, I liked the magazine a lot – it was interesting, relevant, and up-to-date. But when it comes down to it, without a price, I just couldn’t make the commitment to buy. I still don’t know the price of the magazine – I didn’t care enough to do any additional research. But if I had found the price of the magazine on the website – even if it IS out of my budget – at least I’d be informed. It might be something I file away in the back of my mind, something I’d budget for or come back and buy if I fall into a little extra money one month. In this case, though, since I never found a price, I don’t see myself doing that.

I’m frustrated. I had questions that I wanted answered, and I wanted to know the answers immediately. But because the website didn’t give me what I needed, I gave up. Many companies make the mistake of thinking that their product is invaluable – but it’s not. As a consumer, I generally have a lot of options – other ways of spending my money, other companies that offer similar services. The reason this magazine failed to convert me into a paying customer was because, quite frankly, I never found the information that would have made the sale, and a magazine subscription isn’t any kind of life necessity that I can’t do without.

Of course, there’s a flip side to this argument. It’s not necessarily bad or deceitful business practice to omit prices from marketing materials – some marketers would even suggest that prices are omitted or underscored in some instances (you can read all about how to do it at Copysnips.com, where the author offers 5 creative ways to hide prices and an ethical argument for it.) And for some businesses – like luxury services or products with a wealthy target market – it may actually enhance the appeal of your company if you don’t include prices.

But for me, the bottom line is this: I consider myself a pretty savvy consumer. And any consumer knows that everything in life – from cars to coffee – has a price. I’m only going to buy something from a company that makes me feel smart, informed, and like I’m getting a great value. I want a company to make me feel comfortable and reassured about my purchasing decision – and for me, that only comes when I see the numbers.

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12 Comments to “The Money Question: Should You Include Prices in Your Marketing Materials?”

  1. [...] The Money Question: Should You Include Prices in Your Marketing … [...]

  2. Tanisha says:

    Great article! I have been going back and forth about showing prices on my website, you definitely bring up a valid point.

  3. Note that while material products (definitely including magazines) and most business-to-consumer services do need to state their rates upfront, business-to-business services, where some negotiation is routine, have more room for “I’ll tell you at the sales call.”

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  5. Taylor says:

    I certainly get what you’re saying. The flip side of the argument is that many marketers flash a price that is not encompassing of all costs, or is a lost leader to lead you to what they really want to sell you. So price can be used to lead you down the garden path as well.

    For a more customized type of service or product where price will vary by order, listing price is likely going to be more misleading than not.

    The other place where price should always be listed is on sales material where there is a short duration to get people in and make sales before prices change.

    But for clear cut, commodity items, I agree that the price should be stated. There really isn’t any reason not to.

  6. Amy says:

    This is a really interesting article. Thanks for sharing. I too base a lot of my decisions on a solid number figure and most of the time I don’t want to be sending emails about the services and costs; just tell me straight up and I’ll know then and there.

  7. Edguardo says:

    I’m all about transparency too, put up your prices. Especially in these tight economic times it’s really important to know the cost of a product. It is a win win for everyone.

  8. Kerry says:

    we always include prices in our marketing.. they are competitive and we have nothing to hide

  9. Louis says:

    Thanks for recommending this site Kerry.. very interesting

  10. Simon says:

    some good points about pricing.. we always like to give the customer what they want from our website.. saves on wasted time

  11. Blair A. says:

    If a customer doesn’t feels that they are not getting what they need from any business… this is the very thing that separates the success and failure of any provider.

  12. Blair A. says:

    If a customer doesn’t feel that they are getting what they need from A business… this is the very thing that separates the success and failure of any provider. Great post.

  13. smanuals says:

    Yes one must include to shorten communication period and increase confidence in buyer.

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