If you’re planning on selling something on eBay, make sure the background color in your ad is red.
Researchers have found that red backgrounds lead to more aggressive bidding, according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
A corollary to that finding: Don’t use red on the background if you’re opting for a Best-Offer sale. Then the aggression will be directed toward you, the seller, and buyers will be trying to wangle the best deal possible.
When we’re bidding in an auction, the red effect isn’t something we can protect ourselves against because we’re not conscious of it, said study co-author Rajesh Bagchi, an associate professor of marketing at the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech.
“I would suggest that you come up with a maximum price you’re willing to pay in advance so you won’t be affected by the immediate,” he added. “If you don’t, and you get into a bidding war, there’s nothing you can do to protect yourself.”
Bagchi and his co-author, Amar Cheema, an associate professor at the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia, ran several experiments to see how color backgrounds affect buying behavior.
In one study, the researchers looked at actual eBay sales of Nintendo Wii bundles. They found that buyers upped their bids in bigger increments when the background was red rather than blue.
To see whether that was a real effect, the researchers took their study into the lab and asked 78 college students to take part in a simulated auction of Wii games. The study volunteers were randomly assigned to see a page with a red or blue background. They were told that the current bid on the game was $225 and asked to enter their highest bid.
Sure enough, the students looking at red backgrounds bid much higher. Their bids jumped an average of $63.17 more versus $35 more for those looking at blue backgrounds.
The students also filled out surveys designed to ferret out levels of aggression and arousal. Those who were looking at red reported much higher levels of aggression. And that, Bagchi said, is because red makes us feel more aroused.
In another experiment, the researchers looked at how people behave when they are in a situation where they are negotiating directly with the seller — a situation comparable to the “Best Offer” feature on eBay. Those who looked at red backgrounds offered less than those who saw blue.
“In an auction, you’re trying to outbid others,” Bagchi said. “It’s a competition to acquire the item. And your aggression pushes you to bid higher. In a negotiation you’re not competing with other bidders. Instead, you’re competing with the seller to get the best deal possible, so that pushes the price down.”