Last year, my MacBook broke just days before an important deadline. Understandably, stress levels were high as I rushed to the closest Apple store to see if it could be saved. Since taking this class, I have been able to reflect on the persuasive techniques used by the Apple sales team that left me leaving the store with a new laptop that day, rather than just paying to fix my broken one.
When I arrived at the Apple store, I spoke to the first employee I could find, launching into a description of the issues with my laptop. The sales assistant informed me that she could not help as all technical problems are dealt with by the Apple Genius bar. This group of employees (humbly called the Apple Geniuses) are not considered normal Apple sales assistants, they are experts in hardware and technical support for Apple products.
Hovland, Janis and Kelley (1953) identified that expert sources are more likely to change attitudes as people trust their knowledge. Just the title of ‘Apple Genius’ already gives the employee a great amount of power, they are seen as technical experts, with a great amount of experience in an area that many customers may lack knowledge in. This leaves them at an advantage, consumers will assume that the employee will suggest the most appropriate solution to their problem. However, this gives an Apple Genius the opportunity to make suggestions that will maximise sales, and consumers feel unable to challenge these suggestions due to their inferior knowledge.
A study by Woodside and Davenport (1974), showed how convincing an expert can be when selling products. Participants were given the opportunity to buy a cleaning kit for music tapes. When selling the product, the salesperson either came across as an expert or a nonexpert. The expert used technical information about the product and how it works, whereas the nonexpert didn’t share this technical knowledge. The table below shows that when the seller displays expertise, the participants were more likely to purchase the product. Similarly, when I was at the Apple store, the Apple Genius used his expert knowledge of the technological specifications to list off details about the new Macbook model to show how it had developed since I had bought mine three years ago, in an attempt to convince me to buy a new laptop rather than invest in fixing my old one. Realistically, I don’t care too much about retina display or the number of pixels in my screen, and I couldn’t tell you what a 4MB L3 cache is, but when the Apple Genius used these technical terms to explain why I should consider buying the latest MacBook, I was convinced. He seemed confident that purchasing a new laptop would be a more worthwhile investment than paying a third of the price to fix my current one. Confidence is known to increase persuasive power (Leippe, Manion and Romanczyk, 1992), which explains why I felt like I could trust the suggestions made by the Apple Genius without questioning whether it was the best option.
When discussing the option of buying a new laptop, the Apple Genius made sure to compare my current model with the newer one. Not only did he list the improvements, he made sure to explicitly state the technical specifications of my old model in contrast with the newer one. Cialdini (2007) explained that this technique is used to make the differences between two options seem larger than they may actually be, making one option seem a lot better in contrast to the other.
I recall how empathetic the Apple Genius was when he was helping me. He took the time to listen to the problem as I described it, and showed sympathy when I was complaining about all of the university work that I was afraid I would lose (he later used this worry of mine to try to convince me to invest in iCloud file storage). Girard (1997) identified that empathy can increase sales and consumers will like someone more if they feel like that person understands them. In fact, the Apple Genius I spoke to claimed he was able to relate as he explained that his laptop was having similar issues recently. This increased his ability to persuade me as research has found people are more easily influenced by someone who has experienced the same situation (Berscheid, 1966). If buying a new laptop is what worked best for him, then surely it would be the best solution for me too. Upon reflection, there is a high chance that he didn’t actually have a similar problem, but in the moment, I trusted his experiences.
‘But you are free to’
He also acknowledged that as a student, I may not be in the financial position to purchase a new laptop. After listing all the reasons why I should invest in a new laptop, he gave me the option of just paying to replace the several broken parts in my old laptop, assuring me that he is happy to help with either decision I make. Guèguen and Pascual (2000) found that participants were more willing to give away money if they are given an option. Similarly, my compliance with the Apple Genius’ suggestions increased when I was given the freedom to choose what to do.
Regardless of whether or not it was the best decision, I ended up buying a new laptop for over twice the price of the repair. Although, I did manage to convince someone to buy my old broken laptop, without any knowledge of what was actually wrong with it, so maybe expertise isn’t all that’s needed to sell.
Berscheid, E. (1966). Opinion change and communicator-communicatee similarity and dissimilarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 670.
Cialdini R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Collins.
Girar, J. (1977). How to sell anything to anybody. New York: Warner Books.
Guèguen, N., & PAscual, A. (2000). Evocation of freedom and compliance: the "but you are free of" technique. Current Research in Social Psychology, 5, 264-270.
Hovland, C. I., Janis, I. L., & Kelley, H. H. (1953). Communication and persuasion: psychological studies of opinion change.
Leippe, M.R., Manion, A. P., & Romanczyk, A. (1992). Eyewitness persuasion: How and how well do fact finders judge the accuracy of adults' and children's memory reports?. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 181.
Woodside, A. G., & Davenport, J. W. (1974). The effect of salesman similarity and expertise on consumer purchasing behavior. Journal of Marketing Research, 11, 198-202.