Imagine you are invited to a dinner party. Your social conventions suggest you bring a bottle of wine as a sign of appreciation.
You do not want to come across as cheap and wonder:
"What kind of a bottle of wine should you buy?"
Spoiler: In doubt, buy a heavy bottle.
Why a heavy bottle? When consumers cannot objectively judge the quality of a product, they refer to other signals to gauge the quality.
This study is a perfect example of taking an external cue – in this case, the weight of a bottle – as an indicator of quality.
Researchers asked participants about their opinions and expectations about expensive and high-quality wine.
More precisely, they asked to complete the following statements:
- "More expensive wines come in…" and
- "Higher quality wines come in…"
on a 9-point scale with endpoints "lighter wine bottles"  and "heavier wine bottles" .
The midpoint of 5 on this 9-point scale means that participants do not perceive or expect a relationship between weight and price or quality.
Any rating above 5, though, expresses expectations of more expensive/ higher-quality wines coming with heavier bottles.
The researchers only included participants with actual wine drinking experience (i.e., drinking more than one glass of wine per week). They asked them to judge their level of expertise with wine (categories "naïve", "amateur", and "expert"). The researchers found that people with little wine expertise (Naïve) expect both expensive wines (avg. rating 7.1) and higher-quality wines (6.6) to come in heavier bottles. Amateurs and Experts rated those questions slightly above 5 (5.2 to 5.5).
The research team also turned to the real-life wine market and weighed 500+ wine bottles in a cooperating wine shop (you can tell this research project might have been fun). This field study confirmed a positive relationship between the price of a bottle of wine and its weight. Hence, customer expectations are rooted in real-life experience.
What does this mean for you?
- If you are a guest at a dinner party, you might select a heavier bottle within the same price range.
- If you are a retailer, you might include package cues (like the weight of the bottle for wine) in your pricing decisions.
- If you are a manufacturer, you might reconsider your packaging (and pricing).
Piqueras-Fiszman, Betina and Charles Spence (2012). The Weight of the Bottles as a Possible Extrensic Cue with which to Estimate the Price (and Quality) of the Wine? Observed Correlations. Food Quality and Preference, 25, 41-45.