FEATURE9 October 2019

Name your price

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The phraseology around the cost of a product matters, and recent research investigates why ‘cheap’ isn’t the same as ‘not expensive’. By Jane Bainbridge.


Perceptions of value matter. The lure of a bargain, the offer of a discount or the belief that the price you are paying for something is better than expected are all important when buying things.

When exact prices are stated – £15.99 for instance – there is no ambiguity, but generic price terms are commonplace in marketing with terms such as ‘cheap’ or ‘not cheap’ or ‘expensive’ and ‘not expensive’ much less precise.

It was this vagueness that led a team of researchers – Bert Weijters, Elke Cabooter and Hans Baumgartner – to investigate how shoppers process price information.

“I have always been interested in the interface between language and quantification, ” says Weijters, associate professor of market research at Ghent University. “Researchers (and managers) often have a more quantitative mindset so they make simplified assumptions of what certain expressions mean. Especially with negations (such as ‘not cheap’), things often turn out to be more complicated than expected, with variables ranging from ...