But wait, there’s more: the psychology of selling

Even unintentionally, you’ve probably seen one of these infomercials on TV. The presenter goes through all the supposedly amazing features of an obscure product with an excited voice, an urgent tone, as if he or she was sharing an important secret few will be lucky enough to know about. When you think the advert is over, they stop of a second, and say: “But wait… There’s more!” You thought you’d only get that one product, but they will actually throw in a second one for free, as well as free accessories, and a free manual to use all of these together. What an amazing deal.

“Infomercials thrive on complicating purchasing decisions for consumers by bundling items with free offers, bonuses, and rewards. A “but wait, there’s more!” suddenly muddles our perceptions and makes it harder to judge the offer that’s just been presented to us.”

Robert Cialdini, Author of But Wait…There’s More.

“But wait, there’s more” may sound like a cheesy persuasion technique, but the reason why it’s so popular is because it works. “But wait, there’s more” is based on a combination of psychological principles that have been extensively studied by researchers.

If you’re part of the lucky few who have never seen an infomercial before, here is an example where Billy Mays, who was a famous direct-response advertising salesperson, promotes a product called Quick Chop.

Psychological theories underpinning “But wait, there’s more”

“But wait, there’s more” is not a psychological theory in itself, but it touches on many influence and persuasion principles that have been used since the dawn of time. Here are the three main psychological theories used by infomercial salespeople when leveraging the “but wait, there’s more” technique.

  • Increase the cognitive load. Research shows that an increased cognitive load—the amount of information we try to keep in our working memory—has a negative impact on numeracy—our ability to use numbers. By adding more variables, “But wait, there’s more” makes it harder to judge the value of the offer. All the freebies create the illusion of a good deal, and we don’t have enough mental energy left to actually do the math. This is also why the shipping fees are almost never mentioned during an infomercial. When you have already made the purchase decision and call the company, it may feel like it’s too late to back down and hang up.
  • Use amplification. According to science, the amplification hypothesis states that when a particular statement is expressed with certainty, that statement is more convincing. “But wait, there’s more” assumes that you’re already convinced, but the presenter is certain the extra freebies they will throw in with the deal will make it irresistible. Speaking about the deal with such certainty strengthens your belief that it’s not one to be missed.
  • Leverage the scarcity principle. We tend to want what is in short supply. This desire increases as we anticipate the regret we may have if we miss out by not acting fast enough. Paradoxically, “But wait, there’s more” is a way to make the deal seem so good you won’t be able to find it anywhere else. Sure, you could get that product elsewhere, but that product as well as all these freebies? Not so sure. Better order now.

Seemingly silly sales techniques are rarely as silly as they sound. Steve Jobs’ “one more thing” may be more elegant, but it isn’t too different from “but wait, there’s more!” as a way to leverage the very same psychological principles. You should obviously not try to replicate the exact same tone and approach used by infomercial salespeople to sell your products, but understanding the principles underlying this technique may help you avoid buying a 5-in-1 onion chopper at 1am on a Monday evening.

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