I had an unsettling buying experience that has left me in much reflection around it. It may not initially sound like it’s relevant to anything we do, but hold on. I promise to get there.

I’m not a fine jewelry person. I just don’t appreciate it and don’t wear it, so I’m not experienced at buying it. But I found myself in the market to buy a gold necklace for a gift. So, where does one start? The internet, of course. However, I wanted to buy it in person, and not online, so I was just doing some location scouting to make the most efficient use of my time when I went out.

After a few quick searches, I felt comfortable that I could go to my local Macy’s and pick up exactly what I wanted with the least amount of effort. They were, of course, having a sale which ended that day, so I made it a priority to get out there. I don’t enjoy this type of shopping and I wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible.

After some looking and sampling, I selected a chain that was pretty much exactly what I wanted. I wasn’t thrilled with the price, but it was on sale so it at least came into a palatable range that I was more or less expecting. Not liking, but expecting.

However, the necklace was difficult to clasp as the last chain link was not quite large enough to hold. I asked the sales person if she could add a link to it. She said no, but told me there were jewelry kiosks in the mall that could help. I thought that was odd, but off I went.

The first kiosk didn’t have what I needed and sent me to a second one right down the hall.

They had exactly what I needed, so the sales person took the newly purchased necklace out of the box, and she looked at the tag that was still attached. In the middle of the mall, she gasped and let out a little shriek, and then asked incredulously, “Did you actually pay this price??”  I said no, it was on sale, and I only paid half that price. She shook her head and walked away with the necklace and the new chain link she was going to attach to it.

At this point, I’m sure I was visibly flushed with embarrassment. She came back and apologized for her reaction saying, “It’s just crazy. We have this same chain here for $85. I don’t understand American thinking. In India, where I’m from, we believe that if something is on sale, we don’t trust the quality of it. In America, people are taught that if it’s on sale it’s a good deal. The price of that necklace is so ridiculous. No one should pay that price. I would have sold it to you for much less. Same quality.”

How much is that discount costing?

At that moment, visions of our health insurance system flashed through my mind. I couldn’t help but feel like a fool. No, I didn’t pay full price, but clearly there is so much fat in the original price that they are willing to discount 50%. And I had felt semi-good about buying it. Because I got a discount. But a discount off of what inflated price?

I explained my thoughts to her about the comparison to our healthcare system, and we then had a conversation about the costs of healthcare. Again, she said it was just ridiculous the way we look at the cost of medical care and drug prices. She said, “I don’t have health insurance. We just can’t afford those prices. And for what? I set aside $200 each month for health expenses and use it when I need it. We get much better prices by not using insurance.”

Call me the fool

Why had I fallen for the name brand with a discount when a perfectly good option was right there in the middle of the mall at a fraction of the cost?

  1. Because I didn’t know any better and didn’t want to take the time to shop around.
  2. If I had seen that option, I most likely would have considered it inferior quality.

Honest answers.

I know this about healthcare and yet I just fell for it in a retail environment.

How much time have I spent ruminating on this experience and contemplating taking that necklace back? Well, it turned into a blog post a day and half later, so you’re probably getting the point that it’s been eating at me.

Can I take it back? Yes. Can I go get the other one for a less expensive price? Yes. Could I do this if it were a healthcare situation? Nope.

How much money are people spending every day because they have NO IDEA there is another option? And if they did know, how are misconceptions causing them to continue to spend more?

Stop trying to battle emotions with logic

Her words, “Americans are taught that if it’s on sale, it’s a good deal” play a fundamental role in being able to make any significant changes to the finance mechanisms for healthcare.

We are fighting a branding problem. More than anything – maybe even more than the lobbyists – we’re fighting against ingrained public misconceptions that 1) brand name is best, and 2) if it’s off-brand or off a different shelf, it isn’t worth it.

As an advisor, you can pitch new, innovative solutions all day long and demonstrate the potential savings you think they can’t possibly say NO to, but until you help that client/prospect get over these branding and misconception issues, you will continuously be met with frustration.

Clients will hold tight to their brand name plans as long as they feel safer with that than they do with the unbranded and unbundled plans you can create. Regardless of finances.

It’s not logical; it’s emotional. And you can’t battle emotion with logic. Battle emotion by helping people find a sense of safety on the other side. And only then can they see the logic.


Photo by Nestor Rizhniak

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