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The Pain of Paying: And How to Reduce it for Customers

Author: Amanda Hosking


woman screaming

Sometimes we can be real marketing nerds and take an interest in the psychology of advertising and consumption. Here we've come across some science that could be of real value to fellow marketers and sales people, about customer brain activity when it's time to pay for a product or service.

Paying hurts, we’ve all felt it and Stanford University researchers have proved it. When the brain activity of participants was observed under a fMRI scanner, some interesting yet predictable results were observed.

The experiment involved giving participants a set amount of money and presented with objects to buy.

The brain activity of the participants did indeed show sign of pain in the pain centers when they parted with money in exchange for an object, but most interestingly the level of pain was conditional on value. Participants exhibited greater signs of pain when paying for something seemingly over priced, even if the monetary value was small e.g. A £1 chocolate bar would be a more painful purchase than a reasonably priced car.

When cash was replaced with a credit card, this pain also seemed to be somewhat “anesthetized”, showing how parting with literal cash is far more testing.

card reader

How can a seller reduce this pain?

- Make payment by card optional

- Allow payment by installments if appropriate

- Avoid multiple pain points by grouping products as part of a package or offer instead of requiring a customer to buy multiple items.

- Make a deal look fairer with a “decoy offer” at a higher cost

- Offer a fair deal and compare to competing offers