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Loss Aversion

Search Result from Google Maps

Screenshot from yours truly

Loss Aversion: You're missing out

Fear of missing out (fomo) is a persuasive design pattern in many apps. How can you take advantage of fomo or loss aversion in your product?

Feb 19 3 min read Patterns

I just start typing into the search bar on the Maps app when a blue button below steals my attention. Simple, innocuous-seeming, it says “sign in”. Above it is the headline “You’re missing out”.

Subtle, slim, standing out not quite, no bolder or bigger than the font of the search results, only slightly blacker than its supporting copy - “Sign in to get better search results”, this headline starts getting to me in an interesting albeit creepy way. It’s exactly the effect it was intended to have, I think.

Search Result from Google Maps

I’m missing out?

“Better search results”. If I sign in, Maps (or Google?) will store my home address, office location, everywhere I go, my outdoors pattern, and whatever else it can scrape and build a personal travel fingerprint of me.

Each time I use Maps, I’ll do almost no work because what I want will be right in my face as smart suggestions. Boy, you are missing out! Titillating. But,…

I. Don’t. Trust. Google.

So, I never sign into Maps. I hope I never do. But that’s not the point.

Loss aversion

The point is Google succeeded in motivating me to take an action, which is good for it and me, a win-win, if only I trusted the company. It’s what “loss aversion” does.

First identified by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains. As if what you stand to gain didn’t matter, fear of losing something can be so strong you’ll take any prescribed action to prevent loss. Who wants to lose or miss out?

Good product design can take advantage of that.

How to use loss aversion

  1. Offer a free trial without holding back on a single premium feature. Then make trial last long enough to build convenience. When people enjoy using these features, they’ll fear losing them, and they’ll likely pay to continue membership. (Don’t forget to make membership affordable enough for your target market.)

  2. Allow a demo of your SaaS product that requires no sign up information but with a prominent “Save” button. Like Word Counter, persist all user settings and actions and inputs on their device, so that if they accidentally close the tab/window, they’ll get exactly where they left off whenever they return.

    By the time they do enough stuff, they’ll fear losing it all and want to click the “Save” button. When they click it, prompt them to register first. Now, fear of losing all they’ve already done won’t let them quit without creating an account.

    This way of persuading to registration is also called ”lazy registration”, delaying the registration until it becomes irresistible.

  3. Rather explain consequences of not taking an action as a loss than a gain. For example, Google does not lead with the headline “Get better search results”. After all, that is its intent. But “You’re missing out”. Fear. Loss. What? You sign in.

Closing thoughts

While loss aversion, our fear of losing or missing out, can be used to improve the appeal of a product, as with other persuasive patterns in product design, I cannot close without a caveat.

Great UX is ethical - do do no harm. When you must exploit loss aversion, be sure the good you’re pointing to is neither hoax nor hokum nor haram. Make honest user experience, please.


Sources:

  1. Loss Aversion (Design Patterns), UI-Patterns, ui-patterns.com, accessed Feb 5, 2019.

  2. Loss aversion, Wikipedia, wikipedia.com, accessed Feb 5, 2019.

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