Sustainable by default – how determining the default option in product customization tasks nudges sustainable product choices

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Lehrstuhl für Betriebswirtschaftslehre, insbesondere Technologie- und Innovationsmanagement


Buying situations, in which consumers customize products according to their own needs are particularly interesting to study because consumer choices are split up into several sub steps. Moreover, customizing products require a more intense information exchange between company and consumer compared to the purchase of a standard product (see e.g. Franke & Piller, 2004). The design of toolkits for customization (called configurators), which help consumers to make their right choices plays a crucial role for determining the final outcome. However, how choice architecture needs to be designed in order to foster more sustainable consumption is a research field not well explored yet.
Recent research in the food context has found that by following a natural mental representation when laterally displaying food options, it is possible to nudge consumers to choose healthier foods (Romero and Biswas 2016). This research will take the initial results in the food context and try to replicate them in a sustainable consumption context. Specifically, it has been documented that increases in magnitude from left to right typically places something “bad” to the left of the continuum and something “good” to the right (Casasanto 2009). Accordingly, placing something perceived as good to the right of an option considered to be less good would enhance chances that this option is chosen by consumers. Importantly, what is considered good or bad might be dependent on whether consumers are construing their environment in an abstract manner, in which long-term consequences and aspects of a target are highly salient, or in a concrete manner, in which short-term consequences or aspects of a target are salient (see for example Trope and Liberman 2010).
In sum, we would predict that laterally displaying product customization default options differing in terms of sustainability does not always result in a preference of the sustainable option but depends on whether consumers adopt a high or low level of construal.
Support for this hypothesis would be of substantial value to marketers and public policy makers in that it would offer more fine-tuned ways to stimulate more sustainable consumption choices. For example, if the decision context fits abstract thinking (i.e., high construal level), displaying the sustainable option to the right rather than to the left of an unsustainable product option would nudge consumers to choose the sustainable option.

Casasanto, D.l (2009), “Embodiment of Abstract Concepts: Good and Bad in Right-and Left Handers,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 138 (3), 351-67.
Franke, N., and Frank T. Piller (2003), “Key research issues in user interaction with user toolkits in a mass customisation system,” International Journal of Technology Management, 26 (5/6), 578–99.
Kadosh, R. C., W. Brodsky, M. Levin, and A. Henik (2008), “Mental Representation: What Can Pitch Tell Us About the Distance Effect?,” Cortex, 44 (4), 470-77.
Romero M. and D. Biswas (2016), “Healthy-Left, Unhealthy-Right: Can Displaying Healthy Items to the Left (versus Right) of Unhealthy Items Nudge Healthier Choices?” Forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research.
Trope, Y. and N. Liberman (2010), “Construal-Level Theory of Psychological Distance,” Psychological Review, 117 (2), 440-63.

Keywords: Sustainability, Customization, Quantitative, Experiment