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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