But did anyone get the memo?

Two sales promotions caught my eye recently. One was from French retailer Relais, who offered “Your choice of sandwich plus any drink for 5,20€”. When the cashier asked me for 7,30€ I mentioned the offer and he pointed to some tiny print on the ad that basically said only one or two sandwiches were covered by the deal. It was “your choice*” — by which they meant: “our choice”. And the sandwiches actually included in the deal were not available on the shelf. Gotcha.

“It’s not illegal*,” the clerk said, apologetically. “But it’s not cool.”


The same evening I saw a bright yellow espresso machine offered by Nespresso for 49€ instead of 99€. I love bright yellow stuff so I was up for that cheap machine. Until the clerk told me I had first to become a member of the Nespresso club by creating an account online and then I had to buy the machine at full price (which could be INISSIA_BREVILLE_LIME_YELLOW_AERO3-359x508more than 99€) and then apply BY POST via a six-step process in order to get the refund of no more than 51€, up to eight weeks later. Provided the retailer sells at 99€, then the eventual price is 49€. Gotcha. That’s just a horrible example of lowballing, a coercive technique that ought to have died out with Don Draper. 


In both cases, the gotcha is so completely unnecessary. You have to look beyond today’s buck at the lifetime value of a client. A Nespresso coffee machine only works with Nespresso capsules. They don’t need to trick anyone. Nespresso could operate a Lowmium strategy, like printer companies that use cheap machines to encourage consumers into premium ink purchases. 

As for Relais, why not just say: “This one sandwich and drink are super cheap”? Everyone loves a bargain. No one loves being conned.


Bait and switch. Lowball. Foot in the door. Door in the face. These so-called classic coercive sales practices do more harm to your brand and staff than they add to your bottom line. Sure, they work with some punters. But they work by creating a jarring cognitive dissonance in the customer. And what kind of customer does this kind of strategy bring you? Customers who are disgruntled and upset from the get-go, unlikely to be loyal and possibly even out for revenge.

The only legitimate and useful form of marketing today is a fully transparent situation that the consumer voluntarily opts into. Everything else is dead.

*It is. But the honest clerk tells himself it is not illegal to avoid mental distress.

You may also like