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NudgeLab for RSM – how to structure your proposal?

The idea of NudgeLab is to drive behavior change. To do that, you need to know what the current behavior is and how you would like to change it. The proposal helps us understand how to do that and how you’re going to measure your success while doing so. Please find a guideline to structure your proposal in five steps.

1 Identify the trend

I have coached many students in the past couple of years and one of the things I have noticed is that you want to have a positive impact on society and nudge people to behave responsibly: help people become healthier to fight obesity, exercise more, eat less meat and more fruits and vegetables. Or you want to the world to become more sustainable by use renewable energy, produce less waste, reuse products, buy garment that is not manufactured using child labor, and so on. I think that’s adorable and applaudable. That’s why I want to give you NudgeLab as a platform to learn how to drive responsible behavior.

First, I want you to take a step back and identify a trend relevant to you, to society or business, and that you want to impact with a desired behavioral change. What is the mark you want to leave?

Of course, it is not mandatory to drive responsible behavior; you’re free to drive any kind of behavior. If you want to drive consumers to pay in cash instead of using cards or other electronic means to avoid the finance industry or tax authorities to track them, be my guest. Although, I will look at the ethical and moral side of your desired behavioral change. I won’t allow you to try and get people to smoke, kill, abuse, sign up for violent groups fighting for causes good or bad, or display racism or illegal or sexually inappropriate behavior.

2 Make it small

Second, I suggest that you identify one behavior in the trend that you want to impact. This is to have a balance between being relevant (for yourself, society and the timeframe of a Master thesis) and preventing you from boiling the ocean (trying to attain a goal that is unattainable by its sheer size). Examples are:

  • Fighting obesity -> reducing sugar consumption -> drink less soft drink (e.g., Coke) -> replace by water (not by fruit juices because it is at least equally bad)
  • Fighting obesity -> fighting snacking -> eat fewer crisps with saturated fats -> consume alternatives such as fruits or vegetables
  • Fighting obesity -> exercise more -> encouraging easy exercises, e.g., walking, taking stairs
  • Stop child labor -> create demand for products labelled “produced without child labor”
  • Halt global warming -> reduce greenhouse gasses -> reducing meat consumption -> address concerns about protein intake -> create awareness of non-meat alternatives e.g., beans
  • Halt global warming -> reduce greenhouse gasses -> encourage the use of public transportation instead of cars

You see that the goal setting of behavioral change ranges from generic (society level) to specific (individual behaviors that we may be able to influence).

3 Define the target group and situation that you want to impact

In the previous part you have defined the intended behavioral change. In this part you’re going to add more detail to it, by answering at least the following two questions:

  1. Who? Who is the specific target group of the behavioral change? For example, if you’re addressing nutritional habits to fight the global pandemic of obesity, you can address many target groups, e.g., people who are already obese and struggle with their diet, with compliance, with developing healthy nutritional habits, but you can also be preventative and address people who are not yet obese, but a risk groups, or not even a risk group but parents of young children exposed to sweets and candy.
  2. Where? Where is the environment that the current and desired behavior displayed? For example, do you want to impact consumer behavior at point of sale in store? Have them visit different stores, aisles, shelves? Do you want to change behavior at home; grazing, stocking, moments of eating or snacking? Do you want to impact online behavior, behavior of kids at school, and so on?

The nudges that you’ll design, may vary depending on the target group, situation or environment.

4 Understand current behavior

Fourth, I want you to understand the reasons for the current consumer’s behavior from a theoretical point of view. This does involve an initial overview of “consumer theory”.

For example, if you want to fight obesity by encouraging healthier nutritional habits, you’ll have to understand a few things first: why do consumers eat what they eat today, is it mere ignorance and habit and complacency that they eat other things; established rituals, heuristics, habits and practices, or is it a barrier towards eating healthier behavior (“I don’t like the taste and texture of fruits and vegetables”). The two situations may result in very different nudge designs.

In fact, eventually your thesis will include two (intertwined) overviews of theory:

  1. One which helps us understand the reasons for current behavior. You will start to address this in your proposal and refine it in the thesis itself.
  2. Another which helps us understand how we may change this behavior towards the desired behavior. You will only address this in the thesis, not in the proposal.

I believe those two are different yet interrelated and we can’t do the second without the first.

5 Set the ambition

The last step in the proposal is to define what does success look like? If you expect the entire population of meat eaters become vegan because of your nudge strategy, you’ll probably be disappointed. When are you happy? How many converts would you call a success? This will, in the final proposal and the thesis, inform the KPI (Key Performance Indicator) and it will help you do the driver’s analysis (the mandatory regression analysis part to see what has driven success). Express the ambition in SMART terms: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound (alternative definitions can apply). The attainability also applies to the timeframe of the thesis project.

After the proposal

Many of you may have been under the impression that you need to identify your nudges in the proposal, or that you must read extensive theory and write about that. Wrong! I don’t expect nudges, nudge programs or theory in the proposal; that will come after approval of the proposal and in the thesis. I want the proposal to set a clear problem statement and SMART objectives. I encourage you to read a lot yet primarily to be inspired for a clear and relevant problem statement.


Reducing meat consumption by playing with the affective quality of online restaurant reviews

By Camila Lanz and Gerard Loosschilder

Meat consumption is deeply rooted in most cultures. Some attribute it to evolution, making meat consumption inevitable. In the words of Pobiner (2003), “it takes a lot of time and energy to digest plants, and we could instead invest energy into growing big brains” by eating meat. In recent years, however, vast amounts of evidence show that the high caloric content in meat is something that does more harm than good, as human evolution has led to unpre­cedent­ed levels of sedentarism. Also, extensive meat consumption is known to have a harmful impact on animal welfare, the use of resources and the environment in general. Yet people keep on consuming meat. Why?

“My experience with Nudge Lab has been very useful for completing my thesis. Through this project I have been able to give life to my ideas on how to nudge people in an online setting, and I am glad to endorse it as a project worth doing in the future. I believe with a well-developed infrastructure this can become a platform for future students to design and put to the test their nudging ideas. – Camila Lanz

Many reasons are related to a human’s bounded rationality, leading people to use heuristics to make decisions. Heuristics are meant to reduce effort when making decisions, and heuristics can result in biases, such as consuming meat when we know it’s harmful. People have been eating meet for generations; it is intertwined with our diets and favorite national dishes. Salience and availability have resulted in culturally-accepted yet biased thoughts on what a complete meal looks like. A representativeness heuristic leads to stereotyping men as “meat lovers”, tying meat consumption to a perception of masculinity. Or there is a corporate barrier; a matter of vested interest: discouraging meat consumption is against the interests of the meat industry, so investments are made to improve the image of meat to consumers. The abundance of information defending meat consumption results in wide acceptance without hesitation. Stunning is the absence of cognitive dissonance: we care about animals but also eat them. We solve this dissonance by “attributing animals lesser minds and reducing their perceived capacity to suffer” (Loughnan et. al 2014), rather than adopting a vegetarian diet and avoiding the meat paradox altogether (Loughnan et. al 2014).

It is Camila Lanz’s goal to reduce meat consumption by discouraging it while eating out in restaurants. Knowing that people consume meat due to the use of heuristics, we cannot expect them to engage in an effortful decision process to stop eating meat. Therefore, we must make it easier for them to not choose meat. This is where nudge interventions come to play. Camila wants to use nudging to tackle the problem and apply its principles on review sites for restaurant selection. That’s because review sites seem to be an excellent place to discourage the choice of a restaurant on its ‘meat profile’ – the prominence of meat in the description and display of the restaurant or of its menus.

Several studies have been made on the field of healthier food choices using nudge interventions, but none had been made in a review site online setting. The purpose of Camila’s study is to attract people towards restaurants that offer less meat in their overall menu, increasing the probability that once at the restaurant they will consume less meat in their meal. The nudge intervention strategy that Camila wishes to pursue is based on the Affect heuristic: emotions are triggered to attract people’s attention and influence decisions in a desired direction.

Nudge 1: better visuals for restaurants with less meat

Enhanced images are used to attract attention towards restaurants that offer less meat. Restaurants with many meat alternatives maintain the subpar picture one would normally find on a restaurant review site. For example, in the control group, where all restaurants have the same type of picture, this Japanese restaurant has the common picture on the left, while in the test group it has the enhanced picture on the right, supposedly making the website visitor feel more positive about the restaurant. It could nudge them towards selecting this restaurant.

Control version

Common picture of a Japanese restaurant.

Test version

Hypothetically better picture of a Japanese restaurant.

Nudge 2: prolific descriptions of restaurants with less meat

This nudge uses the restaurant descriptions to attempt to nudge consumers. In the test condition, the descriptions of low-meat restaurants include words with positive affect. For example, where the common description in the control group may read “come visit us for gourmet Vegetarian cuisine, in a modern, natural wood setting”, the enhanced description reads “come visit us and enjoy our gourmet Vegetarian cuisine, made with the freshest organic ingredients, in a modern, natural wood setting.”  The latter description is meant to make the consumer have a more positive impression of this restaurant.

In nudge 3, both nudges were put in place: low-meat restaurants have an enhanced picture and description. In the control group, restaurants have pictures and descriptions of a quality typical for review sites.

In the experiment, participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions, each leading to a different experimental review site. On the site, they evaluated 16 restaurants and placed a fictional reservation on the restaurant of their choice. Later they were asked a few questions regarding their food preferences, behavior, and demographics. Results of Camila’s experiment will be available by the end of June 2017.

© Camila Lanz, student in the Master of Marketing track, Rotterdam School of Management, cohort 2016-2017, E:

Getting consumers to stop buying child-labor produced garment

By Priyanka Kanhai en Gerard Loosschilder

Priyanka is committed to working on globally sustainable solutions and one way is to help reduce child labor in the fashion industry. For her Master thesis, she wants to investigate the consumer acceptance of a Child Labor Index (CLI) label. The label is to make consumers aware of the amount of child labor involved in the production of garments and to nudge consumers to choose garmets with a “better” CLI value; i.e., one that indicates less use of child labor. Over time, the label may make itself redundant if consumers choose to abolish child labor.

Unfortunately, the abandonment of child labor comes at a price. Child labor is also cheap labor, so it can only be abandoned if the consumer is willing to pay more because of increasing production cost. Also, brands may be reluctant to abolish child labor because the need to raise prices or of margin pressure may weaken their position, especially if competitors are slow to follow. That’s why Priyanka also investigated consumer price sensitivity towards garments and the tradeoff between the consumer’s willingness to pay more for a garments with a better CLI value.

“Nudgelab has been a very useful and effective way for building the underlying research of the master thesis. As several students are working with Nudgelab, it is very efficient that you can ask your questions to others as well. Next to that, the use of Nudgelab saves you a lot of valuable time, as you are not required to find out on your own how to create a domain name or find a webhost. For my thesis, Nudgelab was very useful and helped me a lot towards reaching my thesis end goals.” – Priyanka Kanhai

Loosely inspired by the likes of, Priyanka created an experimental garment web shop to study the effects of a CLI label. The web shop offered a choice of five product categories (jackets, jeans, sweaters, socks and shoes) and three items per category each. The items and categories did not change but their prices and CLI values did to study consumer choices and tradeoffs at changes made. Each category had its own base price (e.g., 9 euros for socks) which was the same for the three items in a category. Prices could vary across the items in a category by 0%, 20% and 40% from the base price. In every choice task, a participant had to choose a complete outfit consisting of jacket, jeans, sweater, socks and shoes.

In addition, Priyanka wanted to test the impact of placing marketing materials on the web site. She believed that the uptake is faster and stronger if supported by an on-site marketing campaign. Priyanka followed the principles of the messenger as a nudge. A messenger is someone who communicates information by which we are supposed to be heavily influenced: opinion leaders, celebrities or institutes. As an expert, the messenger is supposed to be inspirational, credible and persuasive and yet she shares the same opinions and beliefs as the recipient.

Priyanka tested two creative elements of a marketing campaign as nudges on the site of the webstore:

  1. Messenger nudge 1: a piece of advertising copy which displayed children and was supported by a text calling out “a child is meant to learn not earn”
  2. Messenger nudge 2: a picture of Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the US and believed to be a credible supported of causes concerning children, together with the picture of nudge 1, suggesting that the text is quoting her. Nudge 2 is considered an elaboration of nudge 1, because contracting a celebrity to do the endorsement is probably more expensive than just the ad.
  3. Nudge 3 is a control assessing the effects of CLI and price variations in absence of the nudges.

Estimating the effect of CLI and price variations (within-subject factors) and the nudges (between-subject factor) required the use of an orthogonal research design and the creation of 49 different versions of the fashion web store. Please find below links to three of the web sites, focused on showing the three nudges.

Each respondent saw three of the 49 web shops, repeating the purchase decision three times. The effect of the nudge was only expected in the first run; after that, the participant was expected to be nudged.

Results of Priyanka’s experiment will be available by the end of June 2017.

CLI Only

Price and CLI vary across for 5 garment categories; three items per garment category; 15 items in total

Marketing statement

The web shop is as CLI only, but then it shows a marketing statement about child labor at the top of the page (“A child is meant to learn not to earn”)

Celebrity endorsement

The web shop is as CLI only but the marketing statement is presented as a quote from Michele Obama by way of celebrity endorsement.

© Priyanka Kanhai, student in the Master of Marketing track, Rotterdam School of Management, cohort 2016-2017, E:

Helping online supermarkets to sell more fruits and vegetables

By Tom van Hagen and Gerard Loosschilder

Consumers should consume more perishables – fruits and vegetables – to sustain a healthy lifestyle by way of maintaining healthy nutritional habits. Supermarkets can play an important role in maintaining these habits by keeping perishables an important staple in daily groceries, even if their customer base slowly converts to online services. Tom van Hagen investigates how he can dial up the purchase of perishables by suggesting subtly different ways of presenting them in online supermarkets. Although he did not replicate any supermarket, Tom was inspired by out of loyalty to Albert Heijn; his employer for his long-time side job.

“Nudgelab is a great way to combine theory and practice I have learned in earlier courses. Also  it gives an experience with important skills that will be needed in the future as marketing manager.” – Tom van Hagen

Tom built an experimental online supermarket in which he kept the same set of perishable staples and he played with their display to drive their purchase. The experimental conditions were inspired by the fact that online stores usually follow a layered approach* to giving access to individual products and helping the consumer decide what she needs.

Layer 1 home page
The store offers a choice of categories.
The visitor clicks on one to access the category and study in more detail
-> Layer 2 category page
The store offers a choice of products.
The visitor clicks to either put a product directly in her shopping basket or to continue to the product page study it in more detail
-> Layer 3 product page
The store offers more detail on the individual product
The visitor can study details before deciding if to put it in her basket
-> Layer 4 shopping cart
The store shows the contents of the shopping cart
The visitor can study the list of products and decide whether to return to an earlier step or proceed to checkout

* Short cuts and return options can exist between the various layers.

Tom made a few changes to the design of individual layers to drive the uptake of perishables:

  1. Control: a single button on the home page gives access to all vegetables, fruits and potatoes at once: a category page of 62 staples. Depending on the browser settings of the visitor, the staples will be distributed across several category sub-pages
  2. Nudge 1 Prominence: same as “control”, but the picture that serves as an icon for the button, is visually more prominent and more descriptive for the underlying product categories than the picture in the control condition.
  3. Nudge 2 Separation: three separate buttons on the home page gives access to vegetables (34 staples), fruits (18 staples) and potatoes (10 staples). Depending on the browser settings of the visitor, the staples will still be distributed across several category sub-pages, but because the number of staples per subcategory is lower, so is the number of sub-pages.
  4. Nudge 3 Best sellers: same as “control”, but the home page displays four “best sellers” at the top of the page (mandarins, oranges, bananas and apples) and clicking on one of them will bring the visitor directly to that product page.

The hypothesis is that each nudge under 2-4 will help the online supermarket to sell more perishables than in the control condition. There is no hypothesis which of the experimental conditions 2-4 helps more.

Results of the experiment will be available by the end of June 2017.

You can find links to the web shops below.


Potatos, Vegetables and Fruits, 62 items combined under a single icon and link to a deeper page with all 62 items

Split icons

Fruits (18 products), vegetables (34) and potatos (10) split across three entries on the home page, resulting into three deeper product pages

Affect picture

Same as “base” but then with a completely different picture of Potatos, Veggies and Fruits attracting more attention

Best sellers

Call out of best selling items at the top of the web shop page as a social norms nudge

© Tom van Hagen, student in the Master of Marketing track, Rotterdam School of Management, cohort 2016-2017, E:

Nudging the purchase of perishables in web shops: the case of non-native habitats

By Martijn Volger and Gerard Loosschilder

The share of e-commerce in the global retail business is on the rise, expected to be 14.6% up from 7.4% in 7.4% in 2015. However, the growth is steeper in some sectors than others. Expenditures are highest in apparel and accessories, and in computers and consumer electronics. Foods and beverages are lagging. Walker Sands (2016) found that only 5% of U.S. customers prefer to purchase groceries online versus 92% in a store. In his thesis project, Martijn Volger designed ways to entice consumers to purchase perishables online: by tagging it to the purchases of non-perishables on an e-commerce site that consumers primarily visit to purchase non-perishables, e.g., consumer electronics.

“NudgeLab helped me in a unique and innovative way throughout the process of creating my thesis. Not only did I learned skills that are very useful in the future, I am also supported by NudgeLab from the start to the final thesis.” – Martijn Volger

The goal is to drive trial; nudge consumers to buy perishables from an online store once or a few times; thereby building trust and easing the consumer into the situation of buying perishables more often, turning it into a habit. Martijn built three experimental webstores in which he tagged the purchase of perishables onto the purchase of products that consumers are already used to purchasing online:

  • Gadgets; items with a retail price of up to 20 Euros consisting of a selection of “random” items, e.g., phone peripherals but also books or board games
  • Consumer electronics; flat-screen televisions and mobile / smartphones with a retail value of up to 500 Euros
  • Kitchen appliances; consumer electronics with a retail price of up to 200 Euros that consumers may associate with perishables.

As a side effect, promoting the perishables online may also nudge consumers into healthier nutrition by reaching consumers who already start to do many purchases online and may become less inclined to go to a supermarket for their daily groceries.

Martijn choose several products for perishables: fruits (bananas and oranges), dairy products (eggs) and meats (ham, T-bone steak and spare ribs), offered as separate units (e.g., a single orange for 50 cents) and in bulk (e.g., a bag of oranges for 5 euros). He included four types of nudges tagging the purchase of the dominant products of the web shop:

  1. Offer the perishables as another set of products among the dominant products in the web shop
  2. Same as 1, but in the introductory text at the top of the web shop, it said “50% of the visitors of this web shop have bought perishables (such as fruit, eggs and meat) in the past 10 days.”
  3. Same as 1, but in the introductory text at the top of the web shop, it said “Visitors of this web shop have bought on average for €2 on perishables (such as fruit, eggs and meat).”
  4. Same as 1, but in the introductory text at the top of the web shop, it said “The web shop offers a free fruit bowl worth €4 when buying at least one of the products with the fruit bowl symbol.”
  5. A control situation was included to study consumer purchases in absence of the nudges and act as a comparison for the other four situations.

You can find links to the web shops in the table below.

Consumers or participants in the study were given a budget in each web shop to see how they would complement the purchase of the “natural” item by perishable goods: 20 euros in the gadget store; 500 euros in the consumer electronics store and 200 euros in the kitchen appliances store. In nudge 2 and 3, a social norm of conformism was implemented, suggesting that we prefer to do what we see that others are doing, which may drive the uptake of perishables in this non-natural e-commerce habitat. In the 4th nudge, consumers did not have to spend money on the purchase of perishables. It would be added automatically upon the choice of an item that was marked with the fruit basket icon.

Results of Martijn’s experiment will be available by the end of June 2017.

© Martijn Volger, student in the Master of Marketing track, Rotterdam School of Management, cohort 2016-2017, E:

How to encourage reading diversity?

By Gerard Loosschilder and Lára Hilmarsdóttir

We love book stores

We love bookstores because they drive reading diversity. Inviting shelves near the entrance with the top-10 bestselling items. Tables with new titles and authors mixed with old genres; stickers calling out “staff’s pick” helping us to decide what to pick up next; fellow patrons silently browsing or offering their unsolicited advice. They all help readers expand their horizons. That’s why Lára worked in a bookstore for years where she was a beacon to visitors handing out reading suggestions. That’s why Gerard can’t stop himself from coming out of bookstores with yet another pile.

Who would have thought that ways to drive reading diversity can also be a way to limit it? Gaffeo, Scorcu, and Vici studied the Italian book market in 2008 and they found that a few books become best­sellers at the expense of many other books selling poorly. There is a trend towards herd behavior making people read what others are reading. As a result, the winner takes all and success breeds success.

Lára witnessed this trend first-hand, of the book market converging to ever fewer genres and titles. We believe that it makes readers poorer, robbed of all kinds of artistic and cultural treasures. They are unlikely to experience the same variety of characters and story-telling. Fewer authors will be able to make a living from writing and will have to look for another way to earn. Not only would it be a loss to the book market and to culture; it would be downright boring. We believe that booksellers should use their influence to encourage reading diversity.

That’s why in her master thesis, Lára tested three different nudges to drive reading diversity focusing on other-than-bestsellers and turned them into campaigns using point-of-sale materials, testing them in the bookstores of the American Book Center in Amsterdam and The Hague, The Netherlands. She tested her campaigns in two consecutive two-week periods; a control period with no point-of-sale material and a test period with the material.

You may also like this less-famous crime author

It is a variation to a well-known nudge: based on her preference for one author or genre, the patron of a bookstore receives a suggestion for another author or genre. It is based on the theory of ‘temptation bundling’: an individual is encouraged to engage in ‘should’ behavior by linking it to ‘want’ behavior. ‘Want’ behavior is behavior that one already displays and enjoys. ‘Should’ behavior would be good for the individual’s welfare. Similarly, ‘should’ products offer great benefits but are harder to opt for, which is why they are bundled with ‘want’ products. Readers are encouraged to buy books from authors or genres that they are not likely to pick up, by bundling them with books that they already read.

This nudge is turned into point-of-sale material placed in the crime fiction section of the American Book Center in Amsterdam. Crime fiction has gained a lot of traction over the past years and several authors have emerged as consistent bestsellers. John Grisham, Jo Nesbø and Lee Child were selected to be our ‘want’ authors, using them to point customers to the works of less-known yet high-quality crime authors. Together with management of the bookstore we selected three titles and authors to be our ‘should’ products: The Spanish Game by Charles Cumming (2006), The Ex by Alafair Burke (2016) and I Saw a Man by Sheer Owens (2015).

Although of high quality, they are not promi­nently featured in book reviews and marketing materials, and they do not sell well.

To determine if the point-of-sale material drove sales numbers, we compared the sales of the titles across two periods; a control period of two weeks without the point of sale materials versus a test period of two weeks with the materials. In total, a total of 12 copies of the three books were sold in the test period (~.86 copies a day) versus nine copies in the control period (~.64 copies a day). The numbers are low but the difference is significant: the point-of-sale material did indeed help to sell a few more copies of less famous crime writers than we would have expected in its absence.

You may also like this genre with similar traits

This variation of temptation bundling encourages patrons to try books from a genre that may interest them but that they currently are not likely to read. The interest may come from a similarity of traits. We offered patrons a bundle deal if they bought a historical fiction book together with any book from the fantasy/sci-fi section. Books from the fantasy/sci-fi genre (‘want’) have a loyal buyer base and already sell well. The genre of historical fiction (‘should’) does not sell well and management wants to boost it. Management thought that fantasy/sci-fi readers of could be interested in historical fiction because of the historical elements that characterizes both genres.

Three titles were selected: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009), The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell (2004) and Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1991).  To further prompt sales, a €2 discount was offered on the titles if purchased with a fantasy/sci-fi book.

The point-of-sale materials were put in both American Book Center stores, The Hague and Amsterdam. The layout and the placement of titles across the stores is different. In Amsterdam, fantasy / sci-fi fiction and historical fiction are placed close to one another on the same floor so patrons can easily locate the suggested historical fiction titles. In The Hague, the titles are spread across sections. The Last Kingdom is in Military/History, Outlander is in Romance and Wolf Hall is in regular fiction. That’s why we believe that the effects of the campaign may be stronger in Amsterdam than in The Hague.

 Number of copies sold
in the control period in the test period
Amsterdam 2 10
The Hague 11 15

Statistical test indicated that the lift in sales is low yet significant and it is stronger in Amsterdam than in The Hague. So, pointing out a similarity between two genres can nudge lovers of a popular genre to buy books from a less popular genre.

Look at the effort the author has put in it

A third program that was run follows the effort heuristic. This heuristic says that the more effort consumers think that the creator has invested in producing an object, the more they will value the object. Effort is here a proxy for the quality.  Non-fiction books are particularly well suited to marketing based on the effort heuristic as they are often the result of extensive research, craft, and effort. The challenge is to express the author’s efforts in a meaningful way.

This nudge was only placed in the Amsterdam store of the American Book Center. Six titles were selected from existing inventory: Time Travel: A History by James Gleick (2016), History’s People: Personalities and the Past by Margaret MacMillan (2015), The Unwinding: 30 Years of American Decline by George Packer (2013), Solo Faces by James Salter (1979), Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto (2004) and Nimona, a graphic novel by Noelle Stevenson (2015).

The titles were selected by the staff of the American Book Center who were asked to pick-out books based on the amount of effort they perceived the author had put into writing a book. They are no best-sellers, received little attention, and are not highly rated in book reviews. The effort heuristic was implemented by placing marketing material next to the selected titles on shelf. The material informs the patron of the effort invested by the author in creating the book: research, artistic endeavor or other efforts.

The impact of the nudge was modest: 12 copies of the suggested books were sold in the test period versus eight copies in the control period. Part of it may have been an inventory problem “The Unwinding: 30 Years of American Decline” by George Packer sold out completely in the test period. The reason why this particular title sold so well during the test period may not have been because of the nudge but rather because it was a highly topical book at the time as the test period coincided with the 2017 US presidential elections. Therefore, we cannot be sure if the sales figures for this title are the result of the nudge we created or because of other factors. The main lesson learned is to make sure to have sufficient inventory of a suggested book when putting it on any kind of promotion.

Nudging helps to drive reading diversity

In her thesis, Lára has done some real-time experimentation with nudges that may drive true reading diversity: not just of bestselling items, but of book titles, genres and authors that are less obvious. There are several limitations to the experiments (limited number of titles; short test cycles; no detail about daily sales). Nonetheless, the lifts in sales volume do show that nudging has potential to drive reading diversity. Temptation building seems to be particularly promising, even when the temptation bundle involves no discount. We suggest book sellers use nudges to drive reading diversity in the interest of the book market, authors, genres, and of culture in general.


The authors wish to thank the management of the American Book Center, with stores in Amsterdam and The Hague, The Netherlands, for the opportunity to run the experiments in their stores.

About the authors

This blog is based on the Master Thesis of Lára Hilmarsdóttir MscBA (Master of Science in Business Administration): “Applying choice architecture in book retailing to nudge reading behavior”, Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University, student number: 344634, date of submission: December 1, 2016. Dr Gerard Loosschilder was Lára’s thesis supervisor and Dr. Dan Schley was her co-reader. The copyright of the thesis rests solely with the author, Lára Hilmarsdóttir.

Consulted work and references

On the Italian book market

Gaffeo, E., Scorcu, A. E., & Vici, L. (2008). Demand distribution dynamics in creative industries: the market for books in Italy. Information Economics and Policy, 20 (3), 257-268.

On herd behavior

Chen, Y. (2008). Herd behaviour in purchasing books online. Computers in Human Behavior, 24 (5), 1977-1992.

Walls, W. D. (2014). Bestsellers and blockbusters: movies, music, and books (pp. 185-208). In V. A. Ginsburgh, & D. Throsby (Eds.), Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture, Volume 2. Oxford: North-Holland.

On temptation building

Milkman, K. L., Minson, J. A., Volpp, K. G. M. (2014). Holding The Hunger Games hostage at the gym: an evaluation of temptation bundling. Management Science, 60 (2), 283- 299.

Milkman, K. L., Rogers, T., & Bazerman, M. H. (2008). Harnessing our inner angels and demons: what we have learned about want/should conflicts and how that knowledge can help us reduce short-sighted decision making. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3 (4), 324-338.

On effort heuristic

Kruger, J., Wirtz, D., Van Boven, L., & Altermatt, T. W. (2004). The effort heuristic. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40 (1), 91-98.

Reading list from the nudges


Charles Cumming (2006) “The Spanish Game”

Alafair Burke (2016) “The Ex: a Novel”

Sheer Owens (2015) “I Saw a Man”

Historical fiction

Hilary Mantel (2009) “Wolf Hall”

Bernard Cornwell (2004) “The Last Kingdom”

Diana Gabaldon (1991) “Outlander”

Effort heuristic

James Gleick (2016), “Time Travel: A History”

Margaret MacMillan (2015), “History’s People: Personalities and the Past”

George Packer (2013), “The Unwinding: 30 Years of American Decline”

James Salter (1979) “Solo Faces”

Russell Shorto (2004), “Island at the Center of the World”

Noelle Stevenson (2015), “Nimona”

Parents, read to your children!

By Lára Hilmarsdóttir and Gerard Loosschilder

Why get them to read?

We hear time and again that reading is good for us, we should do more of it and when a new study comes out confirming the demise of reading, policy-makers and schoolmasters alike go on national TV claiming the demise of education and by proxy, civilized and cultured life as we know it. So why all the drama on reading?

A large body of research exist that clearly shows that reading for pleasure is good for you. The benefits range from the usual suspects – increasing the amount of knowledge one possesses and improving language skills such as the size of one’s vocabulary and one’s writing ability – to surprisingly more varied ones including cognitive, emotional and social gains that will last a lifetime. Reading can also serve as a preventative tool for other issues; research has shown that developing reading skills in early childhood has been shown to compensates for lower cognitive ability later in life, and those who continue to read over the course of their life experience a slower cognitive decline at an old age. Although our favorite characters may only exist in black and white in print, reading also has social benefits. It has shown to alleviate loneliness among seniors, and avid readers are better able to empathize with others and comprehend that others hold beliefs and opinions different from one’s own.

There is also ample support for encouraging adults to start reading to their children from an early age, as early literary experience such as being read to by an adult have been shown to amplify the benefits of reading through­out life, from more developed language skills to higher academic achievements.

Unfortunately, people are not just reading less but their reading diets are also becoming increasingly poor, as a handful of repeat best-seller authors and a few genres have come to dominate bookstore and library shelves. This is a trend that may spill over to adults reading behavior to their children. To maximize the benefit of recreational reading, parents should be encouraged to read more to their young children and to seek out more diverse reading materials.

That leaves us with the question where and when to encourage parents to read to their pre-school aged children? Book stores may be a good place because they have a vested interest in encouraging reading behavior. That’s exactly why we decided to study how we can encourage parents, at brick-and-mortar book stores, to read to their children.

What did we do?

We studied different nudges designed to encourage parents to read to their children by placing promotional materials at point of sale of the children’s department in book stores. The point of sale materials called out the benefits of reading to children, immediately followed by a call to action to buy certain children’s book titles.

For the execution of the experiment, we worked with the American Book Centers in Amsterdam and The Hague, The Netherlands. We created two versions of the texts to call out the benefit of being read to, to see which one works best. Both versions were based on the seminal work by behavioral economics pioneers Kahneman and Tversky into prospect theory and decision making under risk. The researchers suggest that “losses loom larger than gains”, which in other words entails that people assign a bigger decision weight to a loss than to a gain of the same absolute value. Following that line of thought, we reasoned that making parents aware of reading too little would motivate them more to purchase children books than telling them what happens if their children do read a lot.

Based on this loss-aversion theory, we created banners in two versions to be hung over children’s book shelves. To prompt action, the banners suggested parents start reading the Miffy book series, by Dutch author Dick Bruna, to their 4-year-olds, pointing to the collection of Miffy books on the shelves.


The “gain frame” in Amsterdam read: “reading to children from a young age has life-long positive impact on their language skills – start reading today with Miffy”.

The “loss frame” in The Hague read: “children who are not read to from a young age lose out on developing language skills that last a life time – start reading today with Miffy”. The trial period lasted two weeks. We measured the effectiveness of the banners by comparing the sales numbers of Miffy books in the two trial weeks with those in the two weeks prior to the trial.

Did it work?

Our results indicate that, in accordance with the hypothesis, the loss frame works better than the gain frame. The table below shows the sales volume of Miffy book copies in the two consecutive periods in the two stores.


Sales of Miffy book copies across the two stores and periods. # of copies sold in the period without banners # of copies sold in the period with banners Total # of copies sold across the two periods
Gain frame (Amsterdam) 15 6 21
Loss frame (The Hague) 20 25 45
Total 35 31 66


Although the sales numbers are low, we do observe a significant effect of applying the loss and gain frame banners (chi-square 4.2, df= 1, p=.0.04). In the Amsterdam store, which featured the gain frame, the sales volume went down in the trial period, whereas the sales volume picked up in the store in The Hague featuring the loss frame. We conclude that a loss frame is more effective than a gain frame at encouraging parents to read to their children.

What’s next?

We were motivated by the voluminous body of research that demonstrates the many, varied and often life-lasting positive effects that reading to children or getting them to read from an early age have. This motivation is exactly why we studied what type of nudges, in the form of promotional material placed at point of sale in a book store, are effective in encouraging parents to read to their children. The encouragement was phrased in two versions, which had their foundation in psychological theory, and our understanding of that theory helped us to predict which version is more effective. Our results indicate that loss framing of nudges in this context are more effective in getting parents to read to their children. However, the study is not without limitations and we suggest for future research to repeat the study for longer, in a better controlled setting, and at other touchpoints, e.g., an online bookstore, in schools, or a parental support center, to see if the advantage of a loss frame holds. In general, we also support using theories whenever designing nudges and the environment in which people make choices, because it prevents us from making unfounded design decisions and offers an opportunity to improve people’s welfare without limiting their freedom of choice.


The authors wish to thank the management of the American Book Center, with stores in Amsterdam and The Hague, The Netherlands, for the opportunity to run the experiments in their stores.

About the authors

This blog is based on the Master Thesis of Ms. Lára Hilmarsdóttir MscBA (Master of Science in Business Administration): “Applying choice architecture in book retailing to nudge reading behavior”, Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University, student number: 344634, date of submission: December 1, 2016. Dr Gerard Loosschilder was Lára’s thesis supervisor and Dr. Dan Schley was co-reader. The copyright of the thesis rests solely with the author, Lára Hilmarsdóttir.

Consulted publications and further readings

Bus, A. G., Van IJzendoorn, M. H., & Pellegrini, A. D. (1995). Joint book reading makes for success in learning to read: a meta-analysis on intergenerational transmission of literacy. Review of Educational Research, 65 (1), 1-21.

Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (1997). Early reading acquisition and its relation to reading experience and ability 10 years later. Developmental Psychology, 33 (6), 934-945.

Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (2001). What reading does for the mind. Journal of Direct Instruction, 1 (2), 137-149.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect theory: an analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica, 47 (2), 263-292.

Mol, S., E., & Bus, A. G. (2011). To read or not to read: a meta-analysis of print exposure from infancy to early adulthood. Psychological Bulletin, 137 (2), 267-296.

National Endowment for the Arts. (2004). Reading at risk: a survey of literary reading in America. Research Division Report no. 46.

Wilson, R. S., Boyle, P., Yu, L., Barnes, L., Schneider, J., & Bennett, D. (2013). Life-span cognitive activity, neuropathological burden and cognitive aging. Neurology, 81 (4), 314-21.