Behavioral psychology and buying a warranty at Menards

by jwhendy2 min read15th Nov 201138 comments

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Personal Blog

I just returned from buying a multimeter at Menards and wanted to post my thoughts while they were still fresh. I hardly ever have the need to use a multimeter. In diagnosing my non-heating microwave, I fried my 2-3 year old meter (don't ask) and went out for another to finish the job. I had many choices. I essentially went with the best of the lowest tier: $14. The next options were $35 and then $55.

I got to the checkout register and was waiting at the end of the conveyor belt ready to swipe my card when the cashier came over to me, stood very close, and in an almost confiding sort of hushed tone, said something like so: "With anything fragile like this, electronics and other things, you want to be careful. Check it out. Make sure it looks good and works. If it doesn't you just bring it back within a year and we'll replace it, no questions asked. Just two ninety seven."

Now, I believe as he said that last part, he was kind of walking back toward the register and I almost reflexively said, "Okay."

Once that word was uttered and I saw him then start doing something with the register, the words I heard all of the sudden registered. I recall thinking, "Oh! He was selling me a warranty of some sort." I grimaced internally but didn't speak up about it.

On my way out of the store, I was angry with myself and feeling very stupid. I wanted a cheap multi-meter. My $14 was now $18 after tax. Using it once or twice a year and then having it sit pristinely in my tool box isn't even worth the $3 insurance policy, especially since it was so cheap to begin with. I tried to catch myself and stop being angry; I thought, "No, let's learn from this situation rather than just feeling stupid. What in the world happened back there?"

Here's what I noticed about the interaction:

  • There was a sense of trust built just in him approaching me so closely
  • The affirmative and hushed tone conveyed both that he was something of an expert and that he was looking out for me, almost as if doing so against the wishes of "The Store."
  • The lack of the use of a currency value ("two ninety seven"), saying it as he walked away, and not using the word "warranty" kept me from registering that all of that walkthrough was really about a warranty. I was also just a little off guard in general, as it just never occurred that he would have any reason to approach me. 
  • Though confused in following his instructions, it felt like standard social protocol to reply in the affirmative ("Okay")
  • Once I realized I'd definitely not understood, I felt too foolish to renege, and the low cost of staying with the default didn't help that impulse
What did I learn?
  • I had a low probability estimate that this gentleman was working for his best interests (to sell me extra stuff), and, conversely, too high of an estimate that he was trying to help me as a fellow human by his seemingly secretive, buddy-buddy approach. Fix that.
  • I chose to look good (seem like I understood) and feel bad (be regretful) rather than look good (be an affirmative, confident customer) and feel good (reject a poor investment of $3 and know it). Trying to look good for a salesman is not a worthy trade for feeling swindled and regretful.
I mainly thought it was quite interesting to try and recall how all that happened. It felt like it took place within microseconds, and just blew my mind as to how unsuspecting I'd been. I thought it better to try and recall the details I could and post it here rather than just regret not doing things better.
Feel free to offer feedback or other anecdotes like this.
I'm still unsure as to whether that "just happened," or whether the salesman knew that his approach was more likely to be successful in selling me a warranty.

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