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The Price of a Coffee


Comparing the price of a digital product to that of a cup of coffee always makes my eyebrows move in a skeptical manner.

I thought this had fallen out of fashion, but I've seen it multiple times lately on new sites: comparing the price of your product/service to the price of a cup of coffee.

Hmmm. This makes me go, "Hmmm."

Just because coffee is cheap and we buy it all the time without much thought to the cost, doesn’t mean your similarly-priced product/service should be purchased with the same blasé attitude.

For one thing, coffee is more important to some people than any app will or could ever be.

(For the record, I’m not one of those people. I have enough built-in stimulants to get-up-and-get-‘er-done as-is, so coffee puts me over the top and makes me tired. #science)

Comparing a price to a cup of coffee is an instant red flag to me. The merits of a purchase should be so overwhelming that I don’t need to be convinced that the cost is essentially throwaway change. Also, making me think your price is essentially nothing must mean your product/service is relatively worthless. Why would you want to make me think that? I should think it’s worth a billion dollars. Sell me the benefits I can’t live without, and I won't blink at any reasonable cost.

Now it's quite possible that it's one of those psychological tricks that works and gets potential customers past the biggest purchase hurdle: handing over the money. I’ve seen no convincing data either way, but my hunch is that it’s so common that we keep using it simply because it is common. It's a pricing trope.

So if you're using that line on a pricing page or a marketing item somewhere, I would be curious to know your results. If anyone has A/B tested a coffee-price-comparison line, send me a note and I'll buy you a cup of coffee in exchange for your data.

For now though, hearing the argument that the price of something is the same as a cup of coffee makes me low-fat no-foam extra-skeptical of both the quality of the product and the quality of the company behind it. And perhaps more interestingly, when trying to cut down expenses, a regular coffee habit is always on the list of expenses to cut.

"Cheap" products, like daily coffee, add up faster than you might think.

So make damn sure your product is worthful.

(For the record again, I actually had a daily “coffee” habit at one point but it wasn’t coffee. I would get a Vanilla Steamer at the coffee shop next to one of my old jobs quite often — it was just steamed milk + vanilla sugar syrup and I happily paid $4 for it.)

Photo by Ross Varrette on Unsplash. If you need a photo of coffee, Unsplash has you well and truly covered.