Digital nudging: what is it?

Nudging is simply put: gently pushing people towards the right path by making the ‘right choice’ attractive without limiting their freedom. In our first article about nudging we explained what nudging exactly is. However, this article mainly focusses on how nudging is used offline. In 2015 academics extensively researched, for the first time, how nudging can be used in an online environment: digital nudging.
Digital nudgingThe researchers call this ‘digital nudging’ and describe this as: “the use of user interface design elements to guide people’s choices or influence users’ inputs in online decision environments” (Weinman, Schneider and Brocke, 2015). This means that you use website designs to gently push people in the right direction. A good example of this is default settings, for instance the American mobile paying service square changed the default option from “no, I don’t want to tip” to “yes, I want to tip”. Even tough users still had to fill in an amount, tips increased significantly after changing the default option.

Furthermore, the researchers found out that whether people do it on purpose or by accident every website uses nudging (Weinman et al, 2015). This is because there is no neutral way to present choices. Every design decision you make influences the decision making process. Therefore, its crucial to understand what the effects are of the choices made.

The researchers created a 5 step digital nudging plan to understand which effect each nudge has:

Step 1: Determine what the context and the goals are for your website

To change the behaviour of users in a positive way its first of all important to determine what do you want users to do on your website. TripAdvisor wants that users write an honest and objective review on their website because their goal is to help people find a restaurant or hotel. But companies such as Amazon have a completely different goal: sell as much as possible. To reach this goal they made the sales funnel as short as possible so that customers have less moments to doubt their purchase.

Step 2: Understand the decision making process and how users can be influenced

Furthermore, it is important to understand the decision making process of users. For instance, preconceptions can play a major role in the online decision process. Take reviewing products or services as an example. When reviewing the user can use the average rating as an anchor and base his or her review on that anchor, which results in the fact that the review is not independent any more due to the fact that the user is influenced by the other reviews.

Step 3: Select a nudge

Digital nudging

Once you have clear goals and understand how users make decisions it is time to think about how you can influence the behaviour. Review website such as TripAdvisor can remove reviews from others so that they are not influenced by others. Companies with different goals like Amazon can also use reviews as a nudge, however, instead of removing them they can place positive reviews in the sales funnel as an extra push to convince people to buy the product.

Step 4: Implement the nudge

In comparison with the offline world nudges are quite easy to implement in an online environment. This is because web designer can relatively easy adjust the design of a website. Also online it is possible to personalize nudges based on users behaviour, for instance by changing text of a nudge based on the products they showed interest in.

Step 5: Test and experiment

When the nudges are implemented it’s important to test the results through A/B and split URL tests. This way you can measure which nudge works best and can also provide you with insights on how to improve further. In case the nudge does not work as it supposed to do it is necessary to evaluate the nudge. Is the nudge to obvious or not clear enough? In some cases, it is even necessary to redefine the goals and/or rethink the decision process.

Further research

This research was only the first real research towards digital nudging. More research is needed to get a clear view of the possibilities and what the differences are between off and online nudging? This way researchers discovered already that offline defaults work better than online defaults and users will change an online default more often than an offline default. Even though they don’t know the real reason why this is the case they suspect that it is because people are more suspicious online.

Are you curious about the possibilities for your company? Contact Hans Drenth

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