For those who tuned into BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought Cages’ series on Wednesday, you will have heard our MD Sue Benson speaking to Rory Sutherland about the commitment bias.If you missed it, here are a few of the highlights from The Virtue of Commitment, which explores how businesses play on our susceptibility to be swayed by commitment.

Rory Sutherland: “The value we place on a service is not only a product of the price or quality of the service itself or merely getting from ‘a to b’ but instead lies partly with the commitment made to us to provide it…Toms shoes has a fascinating business strategy based on the idea that when we’re exposed to commitment, we tend to respond favourably.”

Sue Benson: “They [Toms] set out in life with a very clear commitment. For every shoe that we purchase, they would give a shoe to someone who needs one. They operate now across the world, not just the third world, but in the Americas. As they’ve expanded their offering they’ve continued with that commitment. They’ve entered the sunglasses market and now give glasses, eye tests and eye support into other communities as well. They’ve carried that purpose and desire to help the world’s economies that are suffering for their commercial benefit, so it’s absolutely commitment on their behalf.”

Rory: “I’m fascinated by how well their strategy seems to work. Commitment devices of this kind seem to exploit the non-reversibility of time. Once you’ve made a commitment, a down payment in time, in money and effort, there’s no way of reversing it, you can only proceed and that’s where value seems to lie for us as a customer. To put it simply, it seems to press a button for us.”

Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University and founder of The Centre for Advanced Hindsight: “This is not just a commitment from a contractual perspective, it’s about showing investment in effort… It turns out that often we as consumers don’t just evaluate the thing that we’ve got, we evaluate how much effort went into it…. A lot of time companies just don’t show us the effort they go through, and if companies don’t show us the effort, we don’t appreciate it.”

Sue: “Our thinking is lazy, and therefore once we’ve connected with a brand and understand what their commitment is and their commitment to the outside world, we don’t think about it again. It goes into our autopilot, so it gives us a shortcut to making decisions about what products or brands to buy. We continue to be susceptible to them because we don’t think about them any more, that’s just what we do, that’s out behaviour, and our habit has formed.”

It will take 13.33 minutes to listen to The Virtue of Commitment in full

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