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Changing How You Choose

Choice Architecture is a fancy technical term for the way Behavioral Designers affect the how you make choices. We like to imagine ourselves as rational and thoughtful, but that is far from the truth. So much ink has been spilled on this subject, that this concept is probably hardly new to you.

Humans think in relative terms, rather than absolute terms. Imagine landing on a website with an awesome product you never saw before. It has a price tag on it of $35 with free shipping. Is that a lot? Is it a bargain? This sort of situation is so jarring, that when we have no reference point for price, we actually tend not to buy.

Offer two products, a cheaper option and a premium option, and people are now calmer and more ready to put down some of their hard earned cash. This is where the brain begins to think of value. Do we really need premium? Naturally, most choose the cheaper option.

Add a third option, a ridiculously priced deluxe option that no one wants, and the relations change. Between cheap, premium, and crazy deluxe - most choose the premium. The middle option simply feels to us as though it is better value for money, though practically, nothing has changed. All we did is add an option no one wants.

Not Only for Marketing

The examples above are well known and we are honestly all a little sick of hearing about them. We know we can be manipulated to pay more, but can we be manipulated to eat healthier? How about to donate more to charity?

Once again, we find ourselves in front of a website, thinking about money. This time, however, we are considering how much to give to charity. An empty box is staring us in the face asking: "How much would you like to give?"

Just as with products and prices, that empty box scares us. We think relatively and have no honest clue how much would be reasonable to give. Is $100 too much or too little? We honestly don't know, and so often choose not to choose. We click away, promising ourselves to get back to it later. Few of us ever do.

So let's add a second option. Rather than an empty box, you would be presented with a few options: $10, $100, or $500. You can already see where this is going. Choice architecture for charity and giving, is the same as with paying for products. We pay based on the options presented to us.

Eating Healthier

We stand at our favorite fast food joint and are faced with an important decision: Do we want a small, medium, or large coke? After this short course on choice architecture, we need not be told that medium is the most popular choice. Only that in this case, the medium option amounts to 50 grams more sugar trickling down our body (the daily recommended sugar intake for an adult per day is 24 grams).

How can we gently push customers to choose the smaller option? By doing the opposite of marketing. By removing the third option, and reframing the options as small or large, most will prefer to keep it small, and push their tooth decay back a few years.

Choice architecture is everywhere. The Insight Company uses it to help cafeteria goers eat healthier, office goers take the stairs rather than the elevator, and website goers choose the best subscription package for them.

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