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What is the Default Effect?

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The default effect is the tendency for the vast majority of people to accept the default in an interaction. This occurs when avoiding the default is virtually effortless and increases with each step that is required to avoid the default. The default effect has significant implications for marketing, choice architecture, user experience, ethics and law.

Marketing & Sales

The default effect is commonly used to direct users towards a purchase or more expensive options. For example, a quote for a car may include a high margin package of options by default. This carries some risk as a smart customer will pretend that they don't notice the added options until the very end of negotiations. At the very last step, a customer can request the options be dropped because they never asked for them. The salesperson may have given a good discount thinking the customer hasn't objected to high margin default options.

Choice Architecture

The use of defaults is amongst the most powerful techniques of choice architecture. In some cases, processes such as a political voting process do not allow anything to be defaulted.

User Experience

Customers want defaults as otherwise they are faced with a cumbersome configuration process before they begin using your products or services. Even if a small number of customer change the defaults, it is often worth providing the option. For example, experts and influential reviewers may be more likely to play with configuration. Configuration options can also reduce support costs and attract customers who have specialized needs.

Ethical & Legal

Putting unreasonable things into your defaults can have ethical and legal implications. It may be questionable to have customers agree to legal agreements by default or purchase things with a default action. For example, a bank that interrupts a customers logon with a screen that requests they upgrade to a more expensive fee plan. There's a big button for accepting the new fees and a tiny text link for avoiding the offer. Many people will click the big button as they want the screen to go away quickly. The ethics of such a technique of forcing a purchase is questionable.
Overview: Default Effect
The tendency for a high percentage of customers to go with the default no matter how easy it is to avoid.
Users may process massive amounts of information in a day and use a wide variety of user interfaces. They tend to skim through things as opposed to reading and may use heuristics to make it through user interfaces quickly.
Related Concepts


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Customer Lifetime Value
Customer Motivation
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Customer Persona
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Fear Of Missing Out
Figure Of Merit
Final Offer
Hard Selling
Ideal Customer Profile
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Low Ball
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Nudge Theory
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Willingness To Pay
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