Participants in a real café reward program purchase coffee more frequently the closer they are to earning a free coffee.
Studies have found that humans are more likely to increase their effort when they are closer to their goals, This is called the goal gradient effect.
Even the illusion of progress is motivating for people and make them work faster towards their goals.
Customers who receive a 12-stamp coffee card with 2 preexisting “bonus” stamps complete the 10 required purchases faster than customers who receive a “regular ”10-stamp card.
One reason that goal gradient patterns occur, at least in humans, is that people judge late-state events to have greater value than equivalent early-stage events. In many situations, this makes perfect sense because the ratio of benefit to (remaining) cost increases as one approaches a goal. For example, when someone must rate 10 more songs to receive $10, the expected value of rating the next song is $1. In contrast, when the person advances and must rate only 2 more songs to receive $10, the expected value of rating the next song is $5.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 49 (2013) 1078–1083
As a UX Designer, how can you use this in your designs?
1. Smart Defaults
By providing a set of defaults in sign up form, booking forms or decision choices, you are making it more easier for your users to achieve their goals.
But be careful, your set of defaults must be relevant and make sense for your users.
2. Completed Steps
If your user has do two or three steps to achieve his goals, why not to make the first step done by default? Maybe you can show him the items he has selected to buy as the first completed step.
If it is a three steps process, rather than selecting the items he wants to purchase and start the goal from 0% progress, add fourth step and make the first step completed by default, so he has to start from 25% progress.
3. Perceived Progress
Using progress bars starting at 25% completed make the user perceive progress and he is more likely to wait. Also, using the profile progress encourages users to complete their profiles.
4. User On Boarding
What about making the on boarding experience engaging for the user. Allowing the user for example to build his profile during the on boarding phase will make him closer to his goal and therefore he will be more likely to use your product rather than deleting it.
Finally, learning about psychology will help you a lot as a UX designer, and goal gradient effect is one of that psychological facts that will help you in user retention.
Summary: For designers, the goal gradient may provide a great opportunities to get users use your product, encourage them to use it more. Also, it provide an opportunities for increasing sales and conversions which means an increase in profits.