Swipe, right? What Tinder behaviour reveals about your customers’ decision-making

We’re all constantly making decisions, but are we making the best ones? Should we drive a little farther to get a better parking spot? Should we keep swiping left on Tinder to find a more attractive potential partner? Should we book a holiday deal now? 

Sahira van de Wouw, a Senior Research Lead at dunnhumby, has been researching optimal stopping for her PhD. Here she reveals why most people leave it too late to make the best decision and what that means for businesses. 

“In everyday situations, often you can’t go back to a previous choice. You might just have rejected a potential partner. The parking space might have been occupied. The best holiday deal could have expired. So the optimal stopping theory is about mathematically finding the right moment to stop searching for a better option.”

“Our research looks at how humans are making everyday decisions compared to the optimal solution. A lot of previous research suggests people sample too few options, make a decision too early and miss out on that best option. But our research questions that.”

“When people are looking for the most attractive face in a sequence of faces, like on Tinder, people actually oversample and wait too late. Is there something different about how our brains work when it comes to dating? Is something evolutionary going on with that particular paradigm?”

“In fact, when we compared our fMRI data on the Tinder task to an existing fMRI study where people made economic-type decisions such as buying a house or a plane ticket, we found very little difference.”

“We kept digging to find out why we were getting different results to previous research. One hypothesis we tested was that it had something to do with how attractiveness is different for every individual, so we asked people for subjective attractiveness ratings and found that those didn’t always match with objective values. Even when it comes to something as factual as rating the attractiveness of real smartphone prices, responses do not linearly match up with the actual prices. Both very low and very high prices were rated as slightly more attractive than what would be expected from a linear relationship between prices and attractiveness.” 

What does that mean in real life? 

“This research shows how vital it is to choose the right values to put into your model so that they match with the actual task. Facts are often not the deciding factor.” 

“In retail, you might focus on optimising your prices for your customers. Or when advertising a product, you might try to get people to choose an item by telling them how many other people have bought it, or how many minutes are left on a particular deal. But those facts might not persuade people.”

“It is the perception of your customers that is key. It doesn’t matter what the actual world is like: it’s their belief that matters. If, for example, they walk into a shop and feel there are very few good options, they might leave and go elsewhere, even if another shop doesn’t really have more, better or cheaper choices.”

“You might think that people are rational decision makers that use objective values, but that’s not the case. The research really shows the role of carrying out surveys and interviews to understand people’s subjective ideas.” 

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