No.1 The Ambiguity Effect on Shopping Sustainably

No.1 The Ambiguity Effect on Shopping Sustainably

When applying cognitive biases to promote sustainable shopping we can see the impact of the ambiguity effect on our sustainable shopping practices.

Have you ever put an item back on the shelf simply because the price tag was high, without considering whether the item is at that particular price point because it is sustainably produced?

What is a cognitive bias?

A cognitive bias is a limitation in rational thinking caused by the tendency for the human brain to take short cuts to save energy. Cognitive biases are coping mechanisms that allow the brain to process vast amounts of input. While the mechanism is very effective, its limitations cause errors in decision-making.

What is the ambiguity effect?

The ambiguity effect is a cognitive bias where decision making is biased by a lack of information (ambiguity). The effect leads people to select options for which the probability of a favourable outcome is known, over an option for which the probability of a favourable outcome is unknown.

When it comes to communicating sustainability credentials, in-store and online, be mindful that decision-making is often affected by a dislike of uncertainty. This makes people reluctant to try new things and limits their ability to recognise the long-term benefits of riskier decisions. In relation to sustainability, this means saving the planet for future generations, but at a higher price point.

So, how can we encourage people to shop sustainably? 

Shoppers prefer options with a more certain outcome, even if they aren’t the best choice. So, if you want shoppers to switch to more sustainable things, there are a number of aspects you should consider.

Qualify the price

Although there are times when it is advisable to hide the true price, when it comes to sustainability, clearly offset the price of the item vs the overwhelming emotional gains from buying it. Specifically, if you are launching a new food product, it’s usually unwise to support it with a multibuy. Why should the shopper ‘risk’ buying 2 if they don’t know if they’ll like 1?

Minimise all risks

Reducing the perception of risk minimises the impact of ambiguity. You can achieve this by providing shoppers with a money-back guarantee, some form of warranty or cooling-off period.

Add expert endorsements

If you are unable to provide shoppers with all the information they need, consider using an ‘expert’ to promote your brand (think dentist in toothpaste adverts).

In summary, to avoid the ambiguity effect in relation to sustainability purchase, emotionalise the price, minimise perceived risk of shopping more sustainably and be clear about what your brand offers. A few simple steps can enhance customer shopping experience and leverage your sustainability initiatives to improve the performance of your brand.

Found this blog post useful?

Why not get a FREE brand review to boost your brand communications...

About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

If you think there is value in this article then please, please share it, thank you.

Phillip Adcock

Phillip Adcock CMRS
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

Phillips Signature

Explore our Brainsights

Behavioural Science & Shopper Psychology Workshops

Are you ready to unlock the power of Behavioural Science & transform your business with Shopper Psychology-based insights?

Read Story

Coca-Cola Zero Sugar Cans get Revamp

Coca-Cola Zero Sugar cans are to be revamped with an alleged ‘sleek’ smooth new look. But why has Coke done this? Here’s some interesting science...

Read Story

Get the latest brainsights straight to your email box

We will never share your email address with third parties.
By subscribing you agree to with our Privacy Policy and provide consent to receive updates from our company.