Lowballing is a strategy to increase compliance. In lowballing, the person making a request gets another person (i.e., the target of compliance) to make a commitment to a particular course of action. After making that commitment, the requester reveals hidden costs associated with the requested course of action. The target of compliance is then more likely to follow through with the request (i.e., to comply) than if the hidden costs had been revealed at the time of the initial request.
Car salespeople have been observed using the lowball strategy to increase the likelihood that the customer will purchase a car. In this situation, the salesperson negotiates with the customer to arrive at a sales price that the customer feels is a good deal. After the customer commits to that price (e.g., via oral agreement, signing paperwork, putting money down), the salesperson takes the agreement to the manager for approval. Upon returning, the salesperson indicates that the manager will only approve a purchase price of $500 more than the previously agreed-upon price. Because the customer initially made a commitment to purchase the car, he or she is likely to follow through on the purchase, even though it is no longer that good of a deal. In this scenario, the initial price was a lowball offer, which the salesperson never intended to honor.
Lowballing also occurs in nonsales situations. For example, a professor asks students to help move boxes of books from the office building to the library. After the students agree, the professor reveals that the students must arrive on campus at 7:30 A.M. to help. Because the students have already agreed to help the professor, they are more likely to follow through than if they had initially been asked to help early in the morning.
The Importance of Commitment
The lowballing effect depends on the target of compliance making a public commitment to the initial request. For several reasons, it is difficult for the target of compliance to back out of the commitment. First, the target of the lowball feels a commitment to the person who made the request (e.g., the customer “made a deal” with the salesperson). Second, the target feels a commitment to the course of action involved (e.g., the customer made a commitment to buy a car). And finally, once the target has made the commitment, he or she becomes excited about the prospect of the course of action involved (e.g., while the salesperson “discusses the offer with the manager,” the customer envisions driving home in the new car). Given these forms of commitment, the customer is likely to follow through with the behavior, even though it is more costly than the original commitment (e.g., the customer buys the car even though the actual purchase price is higher than the initial agreement).
Research suggests that the lowballing technique is robust, in that it remains effective even when the targets of compliance are aware of the strategy and its effectiveness.
- Burger, J. M., & Cornelius, T. (2003). Raising the price of agreement: Public commitment and the lowball compliance procedure. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33, 923-934.