Paying an odd price

The strange fixation with the figure 99 is an attempt to project a fair-pricing image.

It’s quite intriguing to say the least. Ever noticed that the price tags on readymade clothes, textiles, groceries, footwear or, for that matter, most other goods, usually bear the ubiquitous numerals 99 i.e. Rs 2,799 or Rs 5,999 etc? Even if the figure is inclusive of all taxes, it’s still mystifying that it ends with 99.

This fetish for not rounding off prices is baffling. Undoubtedly, it would be easier for both customers and salespersons if the price is simply rounded off to Rs 2,800 or Rs 6000. Convenience dictates that this is desirable. So why isn’t it done?

Somehow, it seems absurd that goods should be priced so precisely, leaving the underlying motive open to question. It’s logical that if one’s prepared to shell out Rs 5,999 for something, surely for the sake of convenience one’s not going to begrudge paying an extra buck. Are we to believe that shopping malls don’t want to accept an extra rupee by rounding off the figure?

This strange fixation with the figure 99 appears to be a concerted attempt to project an image of transparency and fair pricing – down to the very last odd rupee, ostensibly extracting nothing additional whatsoever from the customer.
But is this really the case?

Surely, customers aren’t so gullible as to believe this gimmick, apparently aimed at reassuring them that they’re not being fleeced by unfair pricing. However, the very fact that this practice is consistently resorted to does make it suspect.

The suspicion is further fuelled by the unscrupulous practices sometimes adopted at so-called and much publicised “Reduction Sales”. Prices are fraudulently inflated by 10 or 15 per cent from their current levels and then lowered – with much fanfare – by a similar percentage so as to remain at their original levels!

To cite an example, I once purchased a pair of shoes at a such a sale only to discover that a colleague had bought an identical pair from the same source at the same price a month earlier when the “Reduction Sale” wasn’t on! As American humorist Josh Billings wisecracked, “Take all the fools out of this world and there wouldn’t be any fun or profit living in it.”

The fact is, we yield all too easily to our inherent weakness for shopping.   The sight of all those shelves and racks seductively stacked with goodies weakens our resolve to be thrifty as well as our purse-strings. And this, coupled with the compulsive urge to keep up with the Joneses, sees us splurge – and being swindled by unethical practices like over-pricing. Mark Twain put it bluntly when he remarked: “Let us be thankful for the fools; but for them the rest of us would not succeed.”

Perhaps, there’s a perfectly rational explanation for this enigma of price tags uniformly ending with the figure 99. If so, it needs to be clarified to set customers’ doubts at rest. Indeed, the other day looking for a blood glucose monitor, I came across an advertisement for one.   Predictably, it was priced at Rs 599!

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