The Why #71: Why did I just pay $18 for chutney at a Farmers Market?

4 min readSep 7, 2023

By Dan Monheit 8th September 2023

Question submitted by Maya, Parkdale

There’s something about a slow Sunday stroll through bustling market stalls that’s got ‘low key excessive spending’ written all over it. Whether it’s an overpriced latte made from sustainable beans grown in Northern NSW or a handmade chopping board crafted from locally sourced oak, I find myself sold. And Maya, I think we both know I’m not the only one.

Is it simply the wholesome vibes, complete with faint wafts of manure coaxing us to spend? Or perhaps it’s avoiding the terror that comes from saying “No, thank you” to a provedore, while looking directly into their eyes (and soul). No, no, Maya. I’m afraid it’s something far more organic, free range and subconscious than that…

Effort Bias

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.

In 2005, Professor Andrea Morales went all out putting Effort Bias to the test. Working with fellow researchers, she designed an experiment to determine whether people rewarded real estate firms that displayed higher levels of effort.

In this study, Morales presented 46 participants with a scenario where a real estate agent created a list of 10 apartments based on the participants’ preferences. Participants were then split into two groups. Group One was told that the list had been created manually by the agent, which had taken them about nine hours. Group Two was told that the agent used a computer to generate the list, a job which had only taken them an hour.

All participants were then asked to rate how well of a job the agent did on a scale from 1 to 100. Not so surprisingly, the first group (high-effort, nine hour job) gave on average a 36% higher rating of the agents than the second group (low-effort, one hour job).

Put simply, we’re wired to believe that effort is an effective substitute — or at least a leading indicator — for quality.

It’s no real shocker then that when browsing rustic, artisanal, ‘home-made’ chutneys (complete with beautifully handwritten cards explaining the labour of love involved), our credit cards are all but tapping themselves.

Which all seems kind of ridiculous right? There’s good reason to believe that chutneys made at scale, by commercially successful chutney-making experts could actually be better tasting, better for us and made with higher quality ingredients than lone rangers at random markets.

To make the most of the Effort Bias, marketers need not add more effort or complexity to the mix. Instead, they should look for ways to surface and celebrate the complexity that already exists, knowing that if they do, consumers will often be happy to spend a little more. So whether it’s a part of your process, product or people story, remember that when it comes to effort, if it’s not visible, it’s not valuable.

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check why 25 million Australians suddenly believe they’re football experts here.

Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about Effort Bias in episode #21 of the Bad Decisions podcast.

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Check out Dan’s write up in about the mental shortcut that has us spending way more than we should.

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