False choices that work

Seth Godin writes:

Just finished buying some checks online. Got to the page with the ridiculous charges for shipping and handling. They were:

Slow…$14 (Expected delivery, December 15th)
Fast…$18 (Expected delivery, December 10th)
Expedited…$18 (Expected delivery, December 5th)

"Wow!" I said to myself, "I’ll show them… I’ll get the expedited shipping without paying a penny more than fast."

As Seth realises, the "Fast" choice was almost certainly a deliberate bluff designed to draw customers towards paying for "Expedited".
But does this sort of shifty trick actually work? Not in the world of classical economics. But behavioural economist Dan Ariely has checked it out, and… it works a treat. His forthcoming book, Predictably Irrational, is strongly recommended.

The Undercover Economist: a guide

Publishing schedule: Excerpts from "The Undercover Economist" and "Dear Economist", Tim's weekly columns for the FT Magazine, are published on this blog on Saturday mornings.
More about Tim: Tim also writes editorials for the FT, presents Radio 4's More or Less and is the author of "The Undercover Economist" and "The Logic of Life".
Comment: To comment, please register with FT.com, which you can do for free here. Please also read our comments policy here.
Contact: Tim's contact address is: economist@ft.com
Time: UK time is shown on posts.
Follow: A link to the blog's RSS feeds is at the top of the page.
Follow on Twitter
FT blogs: See the full range of the FT's blogs here.