Small sounds, big deals: How do number sounds influence consumers?

Jan 19, 2010

Consumers remember the sounds of numbers in prices and associate certain sounds with value, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Authors Keith S. Coulter (Clark University) and Robin A. Coulter (University of Connecticut) studied the ability of number-sounds to convey meaning and influence price perceptions.

Previous research has demonstrated that people associate certain vowel and consonant sounds with perceptions of physical size. For example, front vowels (like a long a, e, i) and fricatives (like the English f, z, and s) have been shown to convey smallness, while back vowels (sounds like the /u/ in goose or the in foot) indicate largeness.

"Phonetic symbolism affects price perceptions because consumers typically process, encode, and retain numbers (and hence prices) in memory in multiple formats," the authors write. Consumers encode what a price looks like and sounds like along with a relative numeric value that the price represents (such as, "It is inexpensive").

"Thus, sounds associated with the auditory representation can impact the numeric value associated with the analog representation—that is, small sounds can create the impression of big deals," the authors write.

The authors found that number-sound effects were more likely to occur when a frame of reference (a regular price) was provided. And sometimes, the sounds of numbers created false impressions of value. For example, participants perceived a $10 item marked down to $7.66 to be a greater discount than a $10 item discounted to $7.22.

"Number sounds impact price magnitude perceptions only when consumers mentally rehearse a sale price, as they might do when comparing items on a shopping trip," the authors write. "Further, mental rehearsal of the same sale prices characterized by small phonemes in one language and large phonemes in another language can yield differential effects."

Explore further: Less privileged kids shine at university, according to study

More information: Keith S. Coulter and Robin A. Coulter. "Small Sounds, Big Deals: Phonetic Symbolism Effects in Pricing." Journal of Consumer Research: August 2010.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Pricing practices cost consumers

Apr 12, 2007

You may be paying more for that can of soup or loaf of bread, depending on whether they have an individual price sticker or not. A new study from the DeGroote School of Business finds grocery items individually ...

More than meets the tongue

Feb 12, 2007

Does orange juice taste sweeter if it's a brighter orange? A new study in the March issue of the Journal of Consumer Research finds that the color of a drink can influence how we think it tastes. In fact, the researchers found ...

Recommended for you

Why are UK teenagers skipping school?

Dec 18, 2014

Analysis of the results of a large-scale survey reveals the extent of truancy in English secondary schools and sheds light on the mental health of the country's teens.

Fewer lectures, more group work

Dec 18, 2014

Professor Cees van der Vleuten from Maastricht University is a Visiting Professor at Wits University who believes that learning should be student centred.

How to teach all students to think critically

Dec 18, 2014

All first year students at the University of Technology Sydney could soon be required to take a compulsory maths course in an attempt to give them some numerical thinking skills. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.