Vowel Sounds and Price Perceptions

How the vowels in words are pronounced has an influence on how we perceive the size of an item. This ‘phonetic symbolism’ has also been shown to effect how we perceive prices:

Researchers have known for 80 years about a symbolic connection between speech and size: back-of-the-mouth vowels like the “o” in “two” make people think of large sizes, whereas people associate front-of-the-mouth vowels like “ee” with diminutiveness. Marketers can use this effect to make consumers think a discount is bigger or smaller than it truly is. […]

In one experiment, researchers told consumers the regular and sale prices of a product, asked them to repeat the sale price to themselves, and then, a few minutes later, told them to estimate the size of the discount in percentage terms. Products with “small-sounding” sale prices (like $2.33) seemed like better deals than products with “big-sounding” sales prices (like $2.22).

In another experiment, the researchers used a pair of sale prices — $7.88, which sounds “big” in English, and $7.01, which sounds “small” — but are the other way around in Chinese. Chinese and English speakers had opposite perceptions of the products’ relative value.

The authors of the study have also shown how, for discounted items, we perceive the discount on items to be larger when the right-most digit of its price is small (less than 5): the right digit effect.