The Decision Toolbox- 3 Essentials

You probably don’t realize it, but the way options are presented to you has a huge impact on the choice you end up making. It’s estimated that, on any given day, the average human make over 35,000 decisions.

Sometimes, we are presented with various options and must consciously make a choice- like this morning when I ordered a latte. There were 17 other drinks listed on the menu that I could have chosen, but I decided on the latte.

Sometimes, we are given a selection and, unless we actively decide otherwise, the choice is made for us. An example of this is when the barista puts 2% milk in my latte because that is how the latte is normally made in that coffee shop. If I wanted almond milk (or anything other than 2% milk)- I would have had to actively switch my order. This requires that I expend cognitive energy to think about all of the milk varieties available, weigh each against my personal preferences, consider my past latte experiences, and then make a decision.

Choice architecture is the design of different ways in which choices can be presented to consumers.

The field of behavioral science lays the groundwork for the theories of choice architecture by providing the data on why consumers behave the way they do.

Choice Architecture Toolbox

Marketers (and other entities who present options to consumers) must decide which tool is right for each job. There are three basic tools to choose from:


Default choices are best used when you know which option the consumer is likely to choose- think standard shipping or fastest delivery date.

You also can use defaults to influence the consumer toward making the choice you want them to make. Email subscriptions are a great example of this. If the consumer orders anything from your website they are automatically added to your email list unless they “opt out” by unchecking a box or something of that nature. Consumers must actively switch something to avoid the default option- which usually means that the default will stick- but these individuals did not make this choice so, they are far from the most captive audience.


Providing consumers with information on their past choices (or data about choices made by people like them) is a great way to direct a consumer toward making the choices you want them to make.

Amazon is masterful at using feedback as a tool to influence customer decisions.

Feedback on my Amazon homepage

The more data you have on shopping patterns and relevant trends, the more useful feedback you can offer your consumers. If you’re really good at providing valuable feedback, your customers will often add items to their cart that they did not initially visit your site to buy.

These add-ons can really increase your profit, but ensure that this tool is used elegantly- as too much advertising is annoying for consumers.


It is no secret that humans prefer immediate rewards over long term gains. This concept can be utilized to design the consumer experience in a way that motivates people to act quickly. Sales, discount codes, and deals like “buy one get one free” are all examples of incentives that can be implemented to cause customers to make the purchases you want them to make.

Discount incentive pop-up on

One incentive tool that is often overlooked is the “social motivator.” Sometimes people buy things out of necessity but it is more common that they are buying something particular in order to make an impression on their peers. They are using their purchase to say something i.e. “This is expensive, therefore, if I buy it everyone will get the message that I am wealthy.

To use the social motivator tool you can simply place a share section near the product. By allowing customers to easily share their purchase you are letting them simultaneously brag about themselves and advertise on your behalf.

With Great Power…

The fact of the matter is that we, as humans, have limited availability to make complex decisions. If we agonized over every small choice with as much effort as is used to make important decisions (think buying a home) we would never leave our bedrooms. Our instincts take over most of the time and from an evolutionary standpoint, this is for the best (back in the cave-man days, if you had to take the time to evaluate whether the lion in front of you was friendly or hungry, you wouldn’t live to find the answer). We make snap judgments about things based on our experiences and inherent biases.

Knowing this information, many marketers enlist unsavory tactics to trick customers into buying what they’re selling. This engagement is morally wrong, but beyond that- word will get out and reputations are hard to rectify.

There are plenty of ways to use behavioral science and choice architecture to create real value for your customers and I highly recommend employing these types of approaches when designing new marketing campaigns.

Endlessly curious about the human condition. Founder of Studio Upstart. Chief of Staff @ Untapped Ventures.

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