An anchor prevents a boat from straying from a set point.
When making decisions, managers are starting from their anchor – their initial set point, which is grounded in culturally-influenced values and norms.
A manager will drift from this point until the chain pulls taut.
There, he will reach a final decision, but inevitably, because he is anchored to a set point, that decision is influenced by anchoring bias.
We’ve talked about availability bias and representative bias in the last two blog posts and how each influences decision-making.
This week, let’s take a deep look at anchoring.
Anchoring in North African Souk
Let’s say you’re from a Western culture and travel to Northern Africa as a tourist. There, you head into a souk, and a seller zeroes in on you.
Knowing that your cultural norms and values are anchored in paying top prices for quality goods, the seller asks for a much higher price for a carpet than he might ask of locals.
Assuming your ignorance of the local pricing market, he starts astronomically high when haggling. That way, he can negotiate down to the highest amount you’re willing to pay.
He knows your anchoring bias allows for it.
If you never discover how much locals are paying for the same carpet, you’ll be none the wiser. You might even walk away thinking you scored a real bargain, when in reality, you paid ten times the local rate.
But if you later discover the seller gouged you on the price, you’ll likely feel scammed, which can often strain future negotiations.
This is one way in which markets use anchoring bias to their advantage in cross-cultural business.
Anchoring in Vancouver Housing Market
Sometimes, exploiting anchoring biases can backfire for local communities.
Let’s travel from North Africa to Vancouver.
The ‘90s saw a peak in Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese immigrants migrating to Canada. A large number settled in the Vancouver area.
Hong Kong real estate is notoriously pricey, so when Hong Kongers anchored in Vancouver, they were willing to pay top dollar for property.
The local real estate market exploited this anchoring bias and charged higher rents.
The result was that, like Hong Kong, Vancouver real estate now has a reputation of being exceptionally expensive.
According to MoneySense,
“Data collected by David Ley shows how, over the last few decades, metro Vancouver has become similar to other Pacific Rim ‘gateway’ cities, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, London and Sydney. Each of these gateway cities have rising housing costs that are fueled by high immigration-driven population growth and foreign investors.”
So, when exploiting anchoring biases in cross-cultural business goes South for local communities, how do they re-anchor?
In 2018, the British Columbia New Democratic Party was voted in primarily due to their platform on housing costs. Their goal was to increase the housing supply, slow demand, and dissuade overseas buyers by taxing empty homes and raising the foreign-buyer tax from 15 to 20 percent.
In this way, Vancouver is attempting to re-anchor their housing market to align with their own cultural norms and values.