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In retail sales, a bait and switch (or low ball technique) is a form persuasion strategy in which the party putting forth the proposition lures in customers by advertising a product or service at an unprofitably low price, then reveals to potential customers that the advertised good is not available but that a substitute is. The goal of the bait-and-switch is to convince some buyers to purchase the substitute good as a means of avoiding disappointment over not getting the bait, or as a way to recover sunk costs expended to try to obtain the bait. It suggests that the seller will not show the original product or product advertised but instead will demonstrate a more expensive product.
Other advertising practices, such as the use of sales techniques to steer customers away from low-profit items, depend on many of the same psychological mechanisms as a bait and switch. In the United States, courts have held that the purveyor using a bait and switch operation may be subject to a lawsuit by customers for false advertising, and can be sued for trademark infringement by competing manufacturers, retailers, and others who profit from the sale of the product used as bait. However, no cause of action will exist if the purveyor is capable of actually selling the goods advertised, but aggressively pushes a competing product.
Likewise, advertising a sale while intending to stock a limited amount of, and thereby sell out, the loss-leading item advertised is legal in the United States. The purveyor can escape liability if they make clear in their advertisements that quantities of items for which a sale is offered are limited.
Unscrupulous real estate agents commonly engage in bait and switch by continuing to advertise attractive properties in their windows that they have already sold.
In a recent Nebraska case, gas stations advertised fuel for a low price on their sign, but that price was only available at one pump. Customers would have to figure out which pump had the lower priced fuel, or would have to pay a higher price. The state Attorney General intervened, and the gas stations now advertise the pump number with the lower price.
In lawmaking, "caption bills" that propose minor changes in law with simplistic titles (the bait) are introduced to the legislature with the ultimate objective of substantially changing the wording (the switch) at a later date in order to try to smooth the passage of a controversial or major amendment. Rule changes are also proposed (the bait) to meet legal requirements for public notice and mandated public hearings, then different rules are proposed at a final meeting (the switch), thus bypassing the objective of public notice and public discussion on the actual rules voted upon. While legal, the political objective is to get legislation or rules passed without anticipated negative community review.
- Guides against "bait" advertising from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
- Caption bill: Placeholder for a future amendment that would be controversial on its own.
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