Yesterday I was at a Borders bookstore. The checkout line was long and growing. At one of the counters a grandmother and her granddaughter were in the process of completing their transaction. The grandmother had allowed her granddaughter to buy one of the trinkets (glowing ball, etc.) that Borders stacks plentiful along the check out area. But the little girl had two items in her hand and was indecisive. The checkout clerk, not wanting to spend idle cycles on girl’s indecision, took a coin out of his pocket and flipped stating heads this and tails that.
Then magic happened. Before even the clerk revealed the outcome of coin toss, the little girl said, “I will pick this one” and returned the other item.
Behavioral economists say it is our natural tendency to pick options that seem certain over options that are associated with uncertain outcome. When the clerk flipped the coin it became clear to the girl that she might end up with an item that she preferred less and hence was forced to make a choice. Next time you are with an indecisive partner, try flipping a coin.
Kudos to the clerk for understanding consumer behavior, and keeping the line moving. I am not sure if Borders trains their clerks or the clerk read the many books on behavioral economics in the store.