The hotel industry successfully introduced "resort fees." The airlines gradually added baggage-handling fees. Cell phone and cable TV marketers steadily increase fees for expanding services. But when banks tried to introduce a $5 monthly debit fee, consumers revolted, likely because banks failed to rely on the science of "pricing psychology" to sell them.
"Customers will go along with price increases if they think they are getting a fair value for the service, but Bank of America failed to provide that part of the equation," says Jens Baumgarten, a partner and price-psychology consultant with the marketing-strategy firm Simon-Kucher & Partners in New York.
When introducing new prices, companies should begin with a clear understanding of "the logic of what you are offering and what people are willing to pay for it," Baumgarten says. Then through strategic communications and marketing, they should build a case consumers will understand for why certain services cost more, he says.
Hotels conveyed that resort fees included extras, such as Internet and fitness center access, he says. Airlines provided customers with options to avoid baggage-handling fees.
But banks have not taken such a strategic approach in introducing debit fees, Baumgarten says. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. were among banks that earlier this year quietly began testing a $3 monthly debit fees in certain states. But problems began when it was bluntly revealed in late September, days before the Federal Reserve Board's lower debit interchange rates went into effect, that BofA had plans to introduce a monthly $5 debit card fee early next year.
By Nov. 1, BofA and other large banks that had introduced or tested debit fees had dropped the fees amid reports that consumers were planning to bolt from issuers adding debit fees."We learned from the experience and we'll continue to work to build the transparency and fairness of our pricing as we move forward," Brian Moynihan, Bank of America's chief executive, said at its analyst conference Nov. 15, according to a transcript.
The episode generated "a lot of negative impressions" with customers, Baumgarten says."The banking industry's mistake has been taking a product-centric approach when it should be looking at services as a whole and communicating the value of each service so consumers understand exactly they're paying for and what it's worth," he says.