How technology helps us settle for less  


For years, an employer of mine permitted me to take an expensive well-branded limousine service to and from the airport. The cars were very nice but the price was ridiculous for the 18-mile drive.

And then came Uber and Lyft.

While many of the cars were nowhere near as glitzy at the coach service, there was something about the price:convenience ratio that overcame the downgrade. In fact, there was almost something fun and trendy about “going simplistic” to travel 18 miles. I’m not adverse to spending large sums of other people’s money with their permission, but there was something that technology did to make even the least frugal consumer a lot more so.

We have in our minds that technology typically upgrades our personal and business experiences. But in many cases technology simply helps us settle for less — and we don’t even complain about it.

The neuroscience of settling for less is pretty interesting in a world of consumers who usually want more than what they pay for.

The first aspect focuses solely on the sense of immediacy and economy baked into the ride share app. I know that I can have a fancy coach booked days in advance with the driver holding up a “you’re important” name sign well before I get my luggage.

But even if my employer will pay for it, there’s something that gravitates me to the ride share.  What’s interesting is that I now spend time comparing whether Lyft or Uber provides the most frugal option, even if it’s only by a dollar. What’s even more interesting is that I can only do it when I get off the plane and/or recover my baggage.

So I’m looking at being transported in the least expensive 2006 Toyota Camry, requested only after I arrive, instead of a $130 limo already waiting that has my name on a placard.

Many would argue that the ride vendor phenomenon comes entirely down to price. This is by no means an unreasonable argument, but I’m not totally convinced it’s true.  In fact, I know many friends and colleagues on tight budgets who don’t want to use Uber, so it has more to do with the business model than the price. It reminds me of when my old Sicilian aunts were suspicious of the ATM machine and would only deposit or withdraw money from a human bank teller regardless of the 24/7 convenience of the alternative.

While ride share is probably the most vivid example of settling for less, it is not exclusive to the transportation sector.

Many aspects of Airbnb echo the settling-for-less notion that we observe in ride share. There is a psychology of trust in both business models relating to the perception that these drivers and renters have a social aspect to what they’re providing. Many of us who have used Airbnb or its competitors know that while somewhat less expensive, many of the apartments or houses are not really an upgrade when compared to a hotel.

What is consistent between ride share and third-party lodging apps is that they create the illusion we’re operating outside “the system.” This is simply because the engagement is more personalized due to the “homey” perception of the seller, despite the scale of the now enormous brands these citizen drivers and landlords are operating under.

I’m trying to imagine ways other businesses could replicate the immediacy and intimacy aspects of settle-for-less models.

Can you think of an instance where your customers would settle for the B2B equivalent of riding in the back seat of your 2004 Subaru?

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