Whether you realize it nor not you have most likely been nudged if you have ever done e.g. some online shopping. Of course, you can be nudged in other environments too but in this blog I will for the most part concentrate on nudging in the digital environment. This is because I took part in the Digital Nudging Workshop hosted by Riina Salmivalli at the Central Library Oodi on the 9th of December 2019 and I wish to share some of the learnings I got from there. The workshop was part of events organized by Ompeluseuran palvelumuotoilijat which is a women’s service design networking group.
What Is a Nudge?
Okay I realize I have said the word nudge already quite a few times yet have not given any explanation on what it actually means. So here we go, according to Thaler and Sustein (2009, 12) a nudge: “… is any aspect of the choice architecture that alerts people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.” Still confused? Let me give you some concrete examples.
One of the most famous examples of a nudge is the picture of a fly added to the urinals in Amsterdam Schiphol airport. The spillage on the men’s washroom floors decreased by 80% helping to save on cleaning costs as users of the urinals were now aiming at the picture of the fly placed near the urinal drains. Thaler describes this as harmless engineering that captures peoples’ attention and alters their behavior in a positive way (Sommer 2009). Another typical example of a nudge is making citizens automatically registered as organ donors unless they choose otherwise. Spain has implemented this nudge in their healthcare system and thus it is a world leader in organ donations (Govan 2017).
Nudging in the Digital Context
By now you have probably gotten a better sense of what nudging is, so let’s see what it looks like in the digital context. I am going to give three examples of nudges used in the digital environment: default settings, social references and warnings. Obviously, there are more than just these three but I think that calls for a separate blog post. Without further ado, let’s get to it:
This is to do with the status quo bias where individuals tend to stay with the current status as changing is seen to have more disadvantages than remaining with the current status quo (Mirsch, Lehrer & Jung 2017). Take the example of Posti’s parcel service pictured below that instantly gives as a default setting the option “Postal Parcel International” (Posti 2019), which will make it the most likely option the customer will continue with.
This is about taking into account the factor that social norms influence human behavior. Social norms are described as rules and standards which are understood by members of a group that direct and restrict them in social behavior but are not enforced by laws (Cialdini & Trost 1998). At the Fenty Beauty by Rihanna website (2019) the customer can see the reviews of their desired products. The reviews show the reviewers age, region, skin type and tone (Fenty Beauty 2019) so that customer can be influenced in making a purchasing decision if a similar type of person has liked the product as well.
This refers to the psychological theory of loss aversion where losses and disadvantages are presumed to have bigger effect on preferences than possible gains (Kahneman, Knetsch & Thaler 1991). When booking for tickets at the online service ebookers.com (2019), the website notifies how many people are currently searching for flights to the same destination. The site also gives a warning that there are only three tickets available for that particular price, creating an urge for the customer to want to avoid the risk of loosing the cheap tickets.
Next time you go browsing on a website, see if you can spot any of the three digital nudges being used. It is quite interesting to notice how much nudging is happening without you even realizing it.
Written by Lyydia Pertovaara
Cialdini, R.B. & Trost, M.R. 1998. Social Influence: Social Norms, Conformity, and Compliance. In: The Handbook of Social Psychology, vol. 2. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp.151–192.
Ebookers.com. 2019. Holiday Deals, Hotels & Cheap Flights | ebookers.com. [online] Available at: https://www.ebookers.com/ [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].
Fenty Beauty. 2019. Fenty Beauty – GLOSSY POSSE MINI GLOSS BOMB COLLECTION. [online] Available at: https://www.fentybeauty.com/glossy-posse-mini-gloss-bomb-collection/40282.html [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].
Govan, F. (2017). How Spain became the world leader in organ transplants. [online] Thelocal.es. Available at: https://www.thelocal.es/20170915/how-spain-became-world-leader-at-organ-transplants.
Kahneman, D., Knetsch, J.L. & Thaler, R.H. 1991. Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 5(1), pp.193–206.
Mirsch, T., Lehrer, C. & Jung, R. 2017. Digital Nudging: Altering User Behavior in Digital Environments,
in Leimeister, J.M.; Brenner, W. (Hrsg.): Proceedings der 13. Internationalen Tagung Wirtschaftsinformatik (WI 2017), St. Gallen, S. 634-648
Sommer, J. 2009. When Humans Need a Nudge Toward Rationality. The New York Times. [online] 7 Feb. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/business/08nudge.html [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].
Thaler, R. H. & Sunstein, C. R. 2009. Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. London: Penguin Books.