The old adage “ask and you shall receive” is put to the test in a new study published this month in the Journal of Consumer Research. The paper explores whether there is something simple a seller can do to close a negotiation and found consumers are more willing to accept an offer when the seller also requests a favor from them.

“The Favor Request Effect: Requesting a Favor from Consumers to Seal the Deal,” co-authored by Simon Blanchard, an assistant professor of marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, and Kurt Carlson, professor of marketing and director of the Georgetown Institute of Consumer Research, along with Jamie Hyodo of Pennsylvania State University, took a close look at consumers who were shopping for an item, such as vintage furniture or a painting, for which price could be negotiated with the seller. This study provides the first evidence that the mere request for a favor, such as asking for a positive review post-transaction, affects perceptions of reciprocity and can help seal the deal.

As part of the negotiations, all consumers were offered a discount, but before they decided whether to make a purchase, some potential buyers also received a request for a favor by the seller (e.g., “it would be nice if you considered recommending the store to a friend”). The authors found that consumers were much more likely to accept the deal when the seller also asked for a favor, which the researchers dubbed “the favor request effect.” 

“We provide a novel influence strategy that allows sellers to close a sale at a profitable price without having to offer additional costly concessions, such as add-ons, all while potentially receiving a favor in return from the consumer,” Blanchard said.

Consumers often are wary of salespeople, who they perceive as pursuing their own best interests and driven by the desire to sell a product or earn a commission. The sellers have the advantage in the negotiation process, as they are aware of the profit margins, so consumers become uncertain about whether they are obtaining the lowest price – even when a discount is provided to them. The study finds a key to promoting deal acceptance is to alter the way consumers view the interaction from competitive to reciprocal.

While a consumer may, by default, perceive a seller’s willingness to negotiate on price as a self-interested activity, adding the request for a favor should alter the consumer’s perception of this activity, causing the buyer to see it more as the first step in a reciprocal interaction. This is in contrast to simply offering a discount as a self-serving ploy to sell a product. When offering a simple “scratch-and-save” offer, consumers do not find as much value in the discount, as everyone else is receiving the same offer. However, when involved in a one-on-one negotiation, consumers place a greater value on a discount paired with a request for a favor, as it is seen as less of a ploy and more as an individualized offer.

The study finds when the discount is perceived to be part a reciprocal interaction, the consumer will be more certain the lowest price was offered. However, sellers must request a favor that is appropriate for the deal being made and not make the requested favor mandatory, otherwise, the strategy could backfire.

“We think anyone in sales across a wide range of industries will find our study’s findings beneficial,” Blanchard said. “We provide managers with a costless strategy that will increase the rate at which sales are successfully completed. If consumers do complete the favor requested, such as telling friends about their positive experience, the deal will have extended benefits beyond financial gain after the completion of a sale.”