Products seem less expensive to consumers when grouped with inexpensive ones — even if they're not, suggests new research about the way people shop.

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When a product is sold alongside cheaper items, a 'generalization mindset' makes shoppers perceive the product to be in line with the others' prices, even if it isn't, new research finds.

When items are sold alongside cheaper items, they create a "generalization mindset" in shoppers, a study in the Journal of Consumer Research has found. That means a person perceives the product to be in line with the other prices, even if it isn't.

But if a product's uniqueness is emphasized, then the opposite will occur.

"The opposite price perceptions will occur if a marketer's action encourages consumers to think about the uniqueness of a product in the set," say authors Marcus Cunha and Jeffrey Shulman, both marketing professors at the University of Washington in Seattle. "Our research shows that this puts consumers in a discrimination mindset."

In this case, a product will seem less expensive if placed alongside more costly items, and more expensive in the context of lower-priced items.

Cunha and Shulman conducted three experiments to determine the reactions of consumers. Their study will appear in next February's issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.