No.15 The Default Effect

No.15 The Default Effect

Default refers to the option that shoppers end up with if they do not make an active choice - something given to them on a plate, sometimes quite literally!

Ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of choice in a supermarket? Rows upon rows of essentially the same item just packaged differently or worded differently? This is why we need The Default.

What is the Default Effect?

In a choice context, a default refers to that option which shoppers end up with if they do not make an active choice. For example, when online shoppers select an item, they’re offered a default delivery option; they only need continue with the checkout in a passive manner.

The Default Effect is therefore the way in which any default option on offer is most likely to be chosen over anything else.

The Default Effect at Play

Scientists believe this comes down to human brains choosing the default option because it requires the least mental effort. This allows shoppers to reduce an already large number of choices they face every day in-store.

Shoppers also choose default options when they consider them to be recommendations. In the case of toothpaste, the dentist recommending to us a certain brand gives us a default. Note that the credibility of a 'dentist recommendation' subliminally builds brand trust, too.

In-store, there are any number of ways to make your brand more of a default choice:

  1. Social proofing – Telling shoppers that your brand is already the preferred choice of many other shoppers
  2. Visual stand out – A large imposing brand block, supported by POS or promotional messaging will grab more attention and therefore appear more of the default ‘no brainer’ choice.
  3. Reduce choice – Shoppers have too many choices to make so if you can help them reduce the mental effort by giving them a default option, you are making their shopping life easier.


The default effect is something that shoppers need. Quite simply, they can’t choose effectively between 90+ different pizzas, 100 different coffees or 200+ cheeses in the supermarket, offering them default options is a benefit for both them and the brand.

The Default Effect is one of many cognitive biases at play as we make purchase decisions. In fact, it's No.15 in a series of 36 cognitive biases that take hold. Find out what No.16 is - The Denomination Effect.

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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?

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Phillip Adcock

Phillip Adcock CMRS
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

Phillips Signature

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