Nudging: influencing consumer behaviour
Munich, 22 December 2022
Companies have forever been trying to influence our purchasing choices, such as through advertising. Policymakers also influence behaviour, traditionally by means of taxes and legislation. For a number of years now the unconscious steering of behaviour, known as nudging, has also taken hold. How can we as consumers tell when marketers are trying to influence or even manipulate us? How can we guard ourselves against dark patterns and design tricks? Lucia A. Reisch, Cambridge Judge Business School, gave a talk on this topic to an audience of more than 750 guests at acatech am Dienstag on 6 December. vhs.wissen live was the event partner.
Every day people make hundreds of decisions – often unconsciously and intuitively. The question is how do we arrive at these decisions? Lucia A. Reisch, Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge/UK, cited different mechanisms that influence our decision-making. Human rationality and processing power is limited. So we only expend as much effort as absolutely necessary to come to a decision – more than 90% of all the decisions we make in a day take place at a sub-conscious level. People decide according to their wishes and preferences but also according to their moods and emotions.
This is where nudges come in: they initiate certain behaviour. There is no financial incentive or even compulsion involved; they are based on genuine, in some cases sub-conscious, human decision-making behaviour, said Lucia A. Reisch. Nudges reinforce human intentions. For example, if our New Year’s resolution is to be more active, it will help to have a step counter and receive constant motivational notifications when we reach goals. Nudges work by making a certain decision attractive.
State bodies use regulatory nudges as a political instrument. Companies use commercial nudges, the end goal being that the customer buys something specific. Ideological nudges are used by parties to induce citizens to vote for a particular party.
Types of nudges and mechanisms of action
The most widely known type of nudge is defaults. They are intended to steer people in a recommended direction by offering a supposed optimum as the preselection in situations where people have to make a decision. As an example of this type of nudge, Lucia A. Reisch cited printers with the default setting “double-sided”, which encourages people to save paper. Giving out vegetarian meals in hospitals and daycare centres as standard has advantages for the environment and health protection. The default “Accept all Cookies” setting on websites, however, gives operators extensive information about the user. The positioning of existing options – for example, where things are on a website – also plays a role. Ease of access and handling is a common nudge; this includes the placement of products on the supermarket shelf at eye level. The wording on products is also important. Emotionally there is a difference between a yoghurt that claims “97% fat-free” and one with the claim “Contains 3% fat”, said Lucia A. Reisch.
Dark patterns and design tricks
In addition to the little behavioural stimuli that are transparent and nudge people in the desired direction by shaping the decision-making scenario, there are dark patterns. What is meant by dark patterns is techniques with the purpose of preventing consumers from doing something, such as cancelling an account or subscription, said Lucia A. Reisch. Online design tricks are techniques designed to trick the users into doing something unwittingly, such as to subscribe to something inadvertently or to divulge personal data. In this regard, she called upon policymakers to protect citizens better by promoting digital sovereignty (digital competence, regulation and technology). When it comes to forming opinion, elections and major societal debates in particular, society needs to be aware of these mechanisms, said Lucia A. Reisch, concluding her talk.
To Lucia A. Reisch’s talk (audio):
Podcast: Überall, unbemerkt und unterschätzt – Wie unser Verhalten als Verbraucher gesteuert wird (in German)
Duration: 1 hour 7 minutes and 34 seconds
Nudging hell und dunkel: Regeln für digitales Nudging | SpringerLink (in German)