Thursday, April 5, 2012

Gas Stations Test Improper Fraction Pricing

Ever since a handful of enterprising gas station owners devised the now-common "nine tenths" addition to fuel prices, not a single entrepreneur has taken steps to further confuse consumers about how much they're actually paying at the pump.

As gasoline once again approaches the important $4/gallon psychological barrier in the US, a handful of station owners in suburban Detroit are taking fractional pricing one step further.

Yesterday, the sign outside Dee's Chevron station in Dearborn read "$3.87 9/10". This morning, it read "$31/8".

"I'm not trying to confuse people to make some extra cash. I'm just trying to take the edge off of the price increases. After all, gas could hit 37, maybe 39 eights of a dollar before this summer and I don't want people avoiding my station because they think $4.62 and nine-tenths is a better price. Plus we're offering a 15-eighths of a dollar discount on all carwashes with minimum eight gallon fuel purchase."

Have you seen this one yet? I bet you haven't. Please forward it to your mom's AOL email.
Critics fear the new pricing scheme could cause traffic backups as customers struggle to translate the new prices into familiar terms. One suggestion included pricing fuel according to a multiple of Big Macs, in a nod to the Big Mac Index, a classic measure of international purchasing power coined by British financial newspaper The Economist. Another suggestion mentioned pegging fuel to Starbucks Coffee's Grande Latte, but researchers determined the coffee retailer's prices were too volatile to serve as a base price index.

Across the street from Dee's Chevron, Pakistani chemical engineer and BP station owner Rakesh Sultan prefers to draw on his educational background. "Beginning tomorrow, I will post all prices as an exponential function of e," he said, showing us a full-color mockup of his $e^1.5 signage. He concludes, "I have no need for a fraction in my maths, only decimal. Call me 'the lowest common dominator.' That is the pun in English."

Just across the river in Ontario, Canadian consumers were unfazed by the news. "We've successfully fought American influence with our three-fold approach: The metric system, socialized healthcare, and cold weather. If the petroleum industry wants to bring their improper fractions here, we'll confuse them into submission with our litre measurements and slightly different dollar system."

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