How Anchoring Influences UX

I’d like to try a quick experiment, please grab a pen and paper, I’ll give you a second. Now, do me a favor. Write down your current age.

Would you pay that much in dollars for this bottle of wine? If not, how much do you think this wine is worth without doing any research? Write that number down to. So obviously, your age is a completely irrelevant number to how much this bottle of wine is worth. You might be anywhere between 18 or 100 years old, maybe even younger or older than that. But I’ll bet none of you guessed that the price of this wine is a thousand dollars on a good day. Any of your ages would have been a heck of a bargain. An experiment by Dan O’Reilley and his colleagues did just this. But instead of ages, they used the last two digits of Social Security numbers. They would show different items to different people. Sometimes it’s a Bluetooth keyboard, bottles of wine, other miscellaneous products, and they would ask the participants if in an auction they would pay that number, those two digits of the Social Security number in dollars for the item. Here’s a sample of how people responded. In this case, it was for a Bluetooth keyboard. The difference in bids for the exact same keyboard ranged a span of forty dollars. All of this influenced by that initial number. This is anchoring. Anchoring is a judgmental heuristic, which involves using some initial piece of information to make some type of judgment, whether that information is relevant or not, that initial piece anchors the person so that all judgments lean really heavily on that initial piece of information. This isn’t just a numbers based phenomenon either. Anchoring can be related to how much we rely on initial data to make a decision. So here are two ways we can use it to make decision making easier in a design. First, offer a good default value. Consider this example.

All right. So your total comes out to twenty five. Ninety nine. Would you like to donate any money to save all the animals with this purchase?

Uh, no thanks. What went wrong there. No good default. Here’s a better approach. Oh right.

So that brings your total to twenty five. Ninety five. Would you like to round your donation up by five cents to save all the animals.

Yeah sure. Why not. Setting a good default takes away uncertainty and also establishes expectations. That donation went for a possible high stakes donation to a relatively low stakes donation. Also show the original price. Just saying an item costs one hundred dollars gives the buyer an anchor of what? Yes, one hundred dollars. But if we tell the buyer that the original price was five hundred dollars, this angers the buyer with a much higher perceived value. And if we had just said one hundred dollars, anchoring is one of many shortcuts we take as humans. While it could potentially lead to some incorrect estimates, the more mindful we are about it, the better our design choices will be. You can learn more about anchoring by reading my article on Anend Group Dotcom.

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