BLOG#16 The Bangkok Flip Flop Technique

In the heavy, sticky afternoon heat of Khao San Road market in Bangkok, I was the innocent victim of an ingenious sales strategy a few years ago.

In the years since, I’ve identified a lot that I’ve learned about selling, marketing, decision making and pricing psychology (psychophysics) at work in the assault.

Like many of the most potent forms of influence, it’s likely that the seller knew very little about why it worked so well (at least it did on me), but I’m equally sure he doesn’t care… it just worked.

Here’s what happened and the major lesson, so it can put more in your pockets too…

How I got Flip Flopped

Khao San Road and Thailand in general (if you haven’t been) is crammed with cheap replicas of big brands. It’s also common to haggle over every sale.

Tori and I were about to head home after a long trip and wanted to take Christmas gifts home for our families. We decided on a pair of Haviana flip flops for my brother in law Andrew and I spotted a stall with a big display.

I chose the light grey soles with banana yellow straps that were labelled as being $9 and told the stall holder (confidently!) I would pay $6 for them.

My undoing had begun.

He grabbed a very similar pair of grey and yellow flip flops from the back of his stall and told me that these ones were $6 if that’s what I wanted to pay.

I stood my ground and said I wanted the $9 pair but I’d only pay $6.

$$’s chi-ching’ed across the salesman’s eyes for an instant, his lips trembled as he fought back an evil laugh – he’d seen it all before.

He took one of the cheaper and one of the “high end” flip flops, placed both in front of me next to each other and explained the difference between them:

The $9 pair were made in China, they had a good quality (a better fake) brand logo embossed in them and they also had an authentic-looking branded tread in the sole.

The $6 ones were made in Thailand and, when you looked closely, they were a little bit more fake; The badge wasn’t made very well and instead of a branded pattern in the sole they had just a criss-cross pattern.

(Yes – he pointed out all the flaws in his product!)

So I now had a clear choice: The $9 decent quality fakes or $6 poor fakes.

Being a cheapskate, but not wanting my brother in law to know I was a cheapskate, I picked the better quality fakes and paid $9. And I was happy because I knew what I had paid the extra for.

The Flip Flop Technique Lesson: Offering a Quality-Based Choice

The stall holder had done two very clever things by offering me a choice – He’d not only made it very difficult for me to argue for a discount, he’d also taken his competition out of the equation.

The question in my mind at the stall initially was “should I buy these things here or not”

By giving me a choice and clearly explaining the differences, my brain became busy weighing up the different outcomes and was now thinking “which ones should I buy”.

How to Become a Flip Flop Master

There’s a broad spectrum of people shopping for what you sell. At one end there are those that just want the best and will pay for it because it makes them happy to know they have the best. At the other end are those who just want the cheapest.

In every business I have ever worked with, these 2 extreme groups are the minorities.

In the middle are the majority of people who want to get something in particular from your product or service and will buy if they are convinced they will get it. If they aren’t convinced, they will default to buying on price.

What was most important to me was 1. I wanted Andrew to be happy with his gift (and I know he likes good quality stuff) and 2. Me to look good for getting him something good (i.e. not a cheapskate)

If all you offer is one option, you make your potential customers choose to either buy from you or look elsewhere.

Instead, if you offer a higher-value (more benefits) option and lower-value (less benefits) option, clearly explaining the difference in value between the two, the customer customer can’t walk away before they have decided what matters to them most and whether they are willing to pay extra for it.

You have switched their minds from “should I buy here or not”, to “which is best for me” and significantly increased the chances of them buying from you.

The way our minds work is to try to simplify our decisions as much as possible. A single option can leave a lot of unanswered questions and doubt in a customer mind, so they will defer the decision to later (when it’s more critical) and walk away to “think about it” rather than risk making a bad buying decision on the spot.

The other extreme is when someone is faced with too many options, where the brain can’t process all the possible outcomes on the spot and come up with a clear winner. So, again, a person will decide not to decide right there and then and will walk away.

BUT, if you can give someone a very simple and clear choice, explaining the different outcomes of their decision, they will be much more likely to choose one of your options than delay the decision or add the complication of shopping elsewhere.

We tend to opt for the simple clear choice, even when it may not be the overall best choice to make. That’s why people don’t tend to take a long time considering all the ins and outs of the policies of political candidates, they simply vote for who they like, which is usually the person they understand most clearly (regardless of the insanity of what they say).

Of course there are always exceptions to this, but if you can come up with 2 options for every customer, where you’re able to clearly explain the differences in the outcome of their decision, your sales will increase.

Give it a Try

I hope you’ve found this useful and would love to hear about you testing it in your business. My best success has been applying this technique to a boat polishing service business, changing a standard polishing package (the only option previously) to a “Silver Package” and adding a full-shebang “Gold Package” (with every add-on we could think of) which not only boosted sales of the standard option but also added some new Gold price sales.

In most cases it won’t cost you anything to offer your customers 2 different value options and you’ll get immediate results. You’ll find that far fewer people will ask for discounts and you’ll get people buying quicker from you because they aren’t shopping around as much.


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BLOG#7 Can You See the Invisible Influences?

Saturday afternoon, lazing about the house enjoying having nothing to do, the Food Network channel mumbled in the background as Tori and I chatted about what to have for dinner that night.

(please don’t hang up this does have a point)

We found ourselves getting dragged into Man vs. Food, a show where the host visits the best diners and in a city (lots of grilled-cheese sandwiches, fried chicken, bbq cow cuts, ice-cream mountains…) which culminates in him taking on a ridiculous food challenge.

This week it was Atlanta and a 30 inch (yes thirty!) pizza weighing 11lbs called the Carnivore Challenge, taken on by Adam the host and a team member. Food won.

Our discussion turned to pizza options for dinner.

Before we’d made our decision, the show ended and one on Asian cooking began, Ching the host sampling some delicious-looking treats from street food to tantalising pancake combinations. By now our mouths were watering.

We ordered Chinese.

A week or so later, Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals was the background for the evening meal choice (I’m painting a greedy yet quite accurate picture of my home life). I don’t even remember the dish but what I do remember is Jamie’s focus on fresh healthy ingredients and you couldn’t ignore the simplicity of preparing a delicious meal at home.

We didn’t discuss one takeaway for dinner.

Instead I headed to the supermarket and did the big shop for the week. I made a hot and spicy potato and pea curry for tea and it was spot on (not to mention super healthy!) if I may say so.

Why do I bore you with my TV shows and dinner choices?

Because these two episodes are a perfect illustration of the invisible influences over our decisions each day.

The effect is known as Priming and the principle is that many of our decisions, in particular the fast ones that we don’t consider to be major life choices, are made by a system in our brain that uses our short term memory for reference.

That means if I watch 2 TV shows about junk food, my (non-life-critical) decision about what to eat for dinner will more than likely be some form of junk food, because my short term memory doesn’t have much else in there to choose from.

If I look in the mirror after reading a Mens Health magazine or watching athletics, I’ll more likely to have a negative view of my appearance and will be much more likely to decide to get in shape.

If a young girl regularly watches US / Australian soaps and reads celebrity magazines, she will be more likely to be unhappy with / become depressed about her appearance.

If you see on the news a terror attack in Paris blamed on the ISIS group, you will be more likely to treat Asian-looking men (regardless of their nationality and religion) with suspicion. That isn’t to say you are racist, your short term memory just don’t have any other recent reference to form an opinion around.

Priming effect has been used by marketers (long before the effect was proven by the academic and scientific community) to influence the likelihood that you will buy their products.

But the reason behind this article is not to warn you of deceptive marketing.

I’ve written this to make you aware that everything around you, all day long, is influencing your view of the world, the decisions you make and ultimately your day to day happiness.

So what’s the answer?

I have 2 suggestions.

Suggestion 1: choose what you (and more importantly your kids) spend your time watching, listening to and reading.

But a WARNING goes with this – It will require effort on your part!

The lowest-effort approach to life is to accept what the world’s media chooses to paint your picture of how the world really is.

The trouble with that is the media choose to paint a picture of the world’s extremes, because media is business and businesses survive by capturing your attention more than their competitors.

Popular media paints an unrealistic and much more negative (attention-grabbing) view of the world than you are likely to experience, which means it will prime you to look for the negative in others and in yourself when in reality you (and the majority of people) have a lot of things to love, be proud of and be grateful for.

Suggestion 2: there is a second system that your brain uses to make your decisions. This is the “real you” and it’s the way you make important decisions, weighing your options more carefully and taking your time over so you’re ultimately as comfortable as possible with choices that are important to you. Like buying a house for example.

There’s no magic at work when the real you, the one that’s influenced more by your values than your surroundings, is in charge. All you need to activate it is pause for a second and ask yourself “is this something I’ve really decided for myself?”.

It’s not as easy as you would think.