Users are lazy. They follow the path of least resistance. When these paths are trampled through ornamental flower borders (“Desire lines”) then you know the flowers were planted in the wrong place.

It’s your job to make your desired outcome follow the path of least resistance.


  • AVG Antivirus offer a free version of their software (which is great). But the pay versions are on the path of least resistance. Clever! It’s better if you know the “secret” URL, but there are still worry-related upsells on this path (see Pride)
  • point out on their homepage that they are not the true “free” credit report people (that would be but the text is designed to disappear – it’s in a visual dead spot and surrounded by much more attractive targets. So users can easily end up with a monthly subscription deducted from their credit card. Smart! Evil!

6 thoughts on “Sloth

  1. Another slothful behavior to try is escalation of commitment. Get someone to agree to something small, then start piling on more onerous tasks. Because they agreed to the first activity, they are less likely to back out as time goes on.
    Dan Lockton points out on his architectures of control site ( how Swoopo, an online auction site, plays on users’ irrational nature. unlike regular auction sites, you must buy bids up front, and then each time you place a bid on an item you are “spending” your bid – you don’t get that money back whether you win or lose. (notice the clever greed manipulator here too – currency is changed from dollars to bids, so users’ value perceptions will be screwed up)

    That means the bidders get more and more committed to the auction as time goes by. The “winner” gets the item, the “losers” get nothing, but have still paid in to the auction pot. A Swoopo employee suggests they only make money on about 30% of the auctions. That suggests they are making significant money on this small number of auctions as bidders get caught up in the frenzy of not wanting to lose their investment.

    Here’s a small worked sum: Say the top bid for an item is $100. To reach this figure, bidders have placed bids in 15c increments, even though each bid cost them $1. That’s 666 bids (notice anything about that number ;o) or $666 less the cost of the item for Swoopo.

  2. Subscription services that allow you to signup online but only unsubscribe via a phone call are a good example of this. The worst offenders are credit watch companies. It isn’t even so much making the call itself, but in their attempts to talk you out of stopping the service by offering months free, etc. The idea is that you’ll forget about it once again and continue the steady charges. Equifax reinforces this further, periodically writing to say “no news is good news,” implying that even though they haven’t had to do any work notifying you of changes to your credit, they’re still worth keeping.

    I once tried to work around this trap by using Paypal’s single-use credit card option. Only it turned out that single use doesn’t really mean one time use, a recurring subscription still counts as a single use. Huh?

  3. Online coupon codes – We’ll give you free shipping, we’ll even advertise it on our homepage, but you have to remember to enter this code during checkout.

    Mail-in rebates – Rebates are motivating at purchase time, but the 6-8 weeks to get back the money is sufficient delayed reward that the majority never get mailed in. And of those that do, I’m sure a good percentage are not fulfilled (legitimately or not), but by then we’ve forgotten about it and/or lack the documentation/motivation necessary to dispute it.

    Credit card points – Always sound good when you signup, but the decent rewards are often at high point values. In some cards, points expire after 4-5 years, so you may never get to the point of redeeming the points. Meanwhile, you pay a yearly fee to have the card regardless.

    Credit card perks – Yes, in theory my credit card entitles me to purchase protection, concierge services, etc. but rarely do I think about that and actually take advantage of them.

    “easy” return policy – For online purchases, if you don’t like the item, no problem, return it to us for a full refund… except for the shipping you paid for us to send it, and the shipping you paid to send it back. Shipping is a 3rd party cost so it seems reasonable to say that it’s non-refundable, but depending what you purchase, you may have spent a considerable amount for something you didn’t even end up keeping. Not much of a decrease in risk. This often leads to not returning the thing at all, perhaps intending to sell it yourself on craigslist or ebay. But eventually it usually ends up in the Goodwill pile.

  4. Those bastards at freecreditreport got me! I singed up a while back and was surprised when I saw they were trying to bill me… Those bastards! Sneaky tho… =)

  5. Add Microsoft to the list for Evil By Design. I bought what I thought was a fully licensed copy of Office 2010 Student and Home version for my daughter and the family’s home computer. When I installed it, the installation utility defaulted to loading a 30 day trial version of the full Office 2010 Professional suite. My daughter needed Excel, Word, and PowerPoint for her classes. A legal copy of Outlook 2007 was already on the computer and working fine, so I didn’t plan to buy Outlook 2010. Unfortunately, the trial version of Office 2010 Professional overwrote Outlook 2007 with Outlook 2010.

    Microsoft’s instructions for activating the trial program (or not) at the end of the trial period is not a model for clear writing. Apparently, they are counting on it being so hard to do anything else at the end of the trial period that the consumer will give up and pay for the full Office 2010 Professional version. In fact, the way the instructions for steps to follow at the end of the trial period are written, it makes it appear that the full Professional version is the only one that qualifies for a perpetual retail license, thus applying a fear factor on top of relying on consumer sloth in order to generate sales.

    At the very least, even if I can find a way to activate only the programs I thought I was buying in the Student and Home version, it looks like I may be forced into paying for an upgrade to Outlook 2010 that I didn’t want. I haven’t been able to determine yet whether or not Outlook 2010 files are backward compatible with Outlook 2007. If not, then I have to pay for the Outlook upgrade or lose the family’s email activity since the trial of the Professional version was forced installed by the Microsoft DVD.

    So far, Microsoft customer service has been a big zero in answering my questions. They just inform me that I can buy the full version at the end of the trial and send me a link to the instructions on how to activate (and pay for) the full version when the trial period ends.

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