The Why #5: Why do i get so many notifications about the status of my parcel?

By Dan Monheit 25.9.20

Question submitted by Marcel, Camberwell

So. Many. Notifications.

It does seem crazy Marcel (the Parcel?), especially when you consider that:

  1. Logistics companies need to invest mountains of extra cash to track, trace and share all of this information with us, and;
  2. We’re told by the marketing/UX/CX powers that be to ‘make it smooth and easy’. Anything the customer sees should be fast, frictionless and miles away from our tangled mess of systems, processes and infrastructure, and;
  3. Who really cares how many Brazilian distribution centres your six pack of crew socks are passing through on their way to your place?

Sure, we know that while all of those little status updates don’t make our package arrive any faster, they do have a funny way of reducing our anxiety levels while we wait.

By extension, they probably reduce the number of customers ringing call centres, wondering when their packages will arrive.

From a behavioural perspective, however, there’s also something much more interesting at play. In many respects, it’s completely irrational that global powerhouses like DHL and UPS would invite us behind the curtain, let us see them sweat, and load us up with a bunch of information that we really have limited understanding and no control over.

The Effort Bias is a heuristic that causes us to judge the quality of an item based on how much time and effort we think went into creating it. Put simply, we’re wired to believe that effort is an effective substitute — or at least a leading indicator — for quality.

A series of seminal studies on the Effort Bias was conducted by Kruger et al. in 2004. In one experiment, participants were asked to evaluate a poem based on how much they enjoyed it, the overall quality of the poem and the amount of money they thought a poetry magazine would pay for the rights to publish it (apparently poetry magazines were still big in 2004).

Some participants were told that the poet had taken four hours to compose the poem, while others were told they had taken 18. The researchers found that participants thought the poem was more enjoyable, was of a higher quality and worth more money when they believed it had taken 18 (as opposed to four) hours to compose.

These results are consistent with those found in a range of similar studies using paintings, pottery and wine as the subject matter. Research has also found that literary and wine tasting experts alike, can be just as susceptible to the Effort Bias as mere amateurs.

Whether it’s a kitchen in the centre of a trendy restaurant (remember when they used to be out back?), a watch that takes weeks to get repaired (because it needs to go back to a master craftsperson in Paris), or an SMS update about our golf balls excitedly boarding their flight across the Pacific, we can’t help but appreciate the extra effort we’re seeing go in.

Each of these signals remind us what an incredible feat we’re witnessing, causing us to value the experience more, and maybe even be a little more understanding if things go wrong along the way.

The key takeout for brands is not to invent more complexity. Instead, look at ways to surface and celebrate the complexity that’s invariably already there — in your origin story, your sourcing, your quality standards or the way you innovate — knowing that if it’s not visible, it’s not valuable.

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about the Effort Bias and how brands can use it on episode 21 of the Bad Decisions Podcast.

Got a question?
Is there something you’ve always wondered about?
Send it through to

Want more?
Check out Dan’s short write up in CEO Magazine on a few behavioural economics lessons to get your brand on top of the travel list.

Written by

We’re an independent creative agency helping brands capitalise on the why, when, where, what and how of human behaviour.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store