Imagine this…

You walked by a pizzeria on your way home from work.

As the sweet smell of freshly baked dough smothered in tomato sauce and cheese filled your nostrils, you’d already decided—tonight… you’d order pizza for dinner.

You get home, cozy up on your couch, and open up your phone.

You know exactly what you’re looking for. The UberEats app.

In a few clicks you’ve added your favorite pizza to your cart.

You review your order and check the final amount. You can feel the dopamine as you hit the Checkout button. “Finally!” you think.

UberEats lets you know the pizza shop is preparing your order and then asks you, “Do you want to tip your courier?”

The options are to tip 10%, 15% or 18%. 

The 15% tip is already highlighted and all you have to do is hit the green “Continue” button to see your order status again.

How much do you choose to tip?

In today’s edition of Why We Buy, we’re taking a look at Defaults – why we often accept the default option (aka the status quo) rather than changing it.

Let’s get into it…

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The Psychology of Defaults 🧠

Behavioural scientists have long understood the power of defaults. When people are presented with a pre-selected option—a “default”—studies show that they’re more likely to stick with the status quo than to change it.

In their bestselling book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, professors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein argue that defaults can be used to nudge people towards a particular choice.

Think of defaults as the checkbox that’s automatically ticked off for you. If you want to opt-out, you have to untick that checkbox manually.

Defaults can come in a lot of shapes and sizes:

  • Having to opt-out of receiving updates and newsletters when you make a purchase 
  • Automated subscription opt-ins after trials
  • Automatic enrollment in an organ donor program or into making a donation
  • Getting charged for a monthly or annual subscription
  • Being enrolled in a program (like a 401k)
  • Pre-selecting a specific option—like automatically suggesting a 10% tips for delivery driver

Defaults, when skillfully deployed, can garner pretty wild results.

The United Kingdom used defaults to get more people to enroll in a pension program. By making the pension program the default they increased participation rates by 40% in just 3 years.

Like we said… pretty wild results.

Poorly designed default choices can have negative, unintended impacts. 

For instance, as Brett Hill pointed out on Twitter, using a woman’s voice as the default for all AI assistants could create ripple effects at how society in general views women.

Scary stuff, right?

Inside Your Buyer’s Mind🧐

Defaults, when deployed correctly, can be very effective in encouraging buyers to choose a particular course of action.

The reason defaults work so well is partly because of inertia. In psychology, inertia is our inclination to go with the status quo without making any changes.

Oftentimes your buyers will happily stick with the default. That said, it should be easy for buyers to choose a different option should they wish. It should be a gentle nudge (not a shove).

If you intentionally make it difficult for customers to choose an alternate path, you’re creating sludge. And buyers will resent you.

How To Apply This 🤑

Alright, so how can we apply this right now to sell more?

Make the desired action the default

If you have an ideal product or opt-in option, make it the default. 

Four Sigmatic product pages automatically have their subscription option checked instead of their buy once option. This default nudges customers to choose the cheaper Subscribe & Save option over the more expensive Buy Once option.

Labour Illusion Effect

Transparency is the key to using defaults. 

If buyers feel tricked into choosing the default, you may get more sales in the short-term but it will do irrevocable damage to your brand—and sales—in the long-term.

Use defaults to reduce friction

Defaults can save time for customers (and make it easier for them to complete a desired action). 

For example, you can use geotargeting on a form to automatically show the country or state the person is in as the default, like Chili Piper does.

Labour Illusion Effect

And Chili Piper knows that you’re 21x more likely to qualify your lead with a fast response time over waiting 30+ minutes to respond. 

Chili Piper allows you to qualify, root, and book demos in seconds. That way when your ICP requests to book a demo, they’ll see the soonest call time as the default.

Labour Illusion Effect

Make choosing a different option easy

Whatever you do — don’t make it hard for your buyers to opt-out. If you’re asking them to call your customer service line to get out of the default option… you’re doing it wrong. Don’t add unnecessary sludge.

Make it clear what they’re opting in to and how they can opt out.

Shopify has built defaults into their payment pages by automatically opting buyers into receiving news and offers after their purchase. But, they make it super easy for buyers to opt-out with a simple click.

Labour Illusion Effect

The Short of It 💥

Oftentimes buyers are more likely to go with the default option than to change it.

This means it’s a marketer’s job to use defaults with integrity. Use defaults… but show your customers how to opt-out and remind them when they’re about to get charged.

This turns them into raving fans of your brands. What could be better?

Until next time, happy selling.



Wanna really get inside your buyer’s head?

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Written By Katelyn

Katelyn Bourgoin is the CEO of Customer Camp, a 4X founder, and a cheese lover. She lives by a simple mantra: whoever gets closer to the customer wins.

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