Artificial Head Starts Online

It has never been so easy to make a purchase online or build a new profile on a social media platform. Within a few steps your new book will be on its way from Amazon or your Facebook profile will showcase where you grew up, what you studied and who you work for.

There are myriad reasons why online shopping and profile building has become so effortless and even rewarding. Companies understand that tedious tasks like filling in personal information can make or break a sale.

Various techniques have been implemented to improve the experience of completing these tedious tasks. One such technique is the endowed progress effect.

The endowed progress effect is a psychological phenomenon where people are provided with an ‘artificial advancement’ or an illusory head start toward a goal. This head start motivates people to persist or commit to the completion of a task or goal.

A study by psychologists Joseph C. Nunes and Xavier Dreze observed two groups of people who were each given loyalty cards to a carwash.

People from the first group were given loyalty cards with 10 stamp spaces (each space indicates one car wash purchase) and two spaces already stamped. This gave the illusion that the loyalty card was 20 percent complete.

People from the second group were given similar loyalty cards, although in this group, there were only 8 stamp spaces with none of the spaces already stamped, leaving the loyalty cards 0 percent complete.

The results showed that customers from the first group with pre-stamped loyalty cards were far more likely to return when their card was redeemable.

Although both groups had to purchase 8 car washes to redeem a free one, the first group who were entranced by the illusion of 20 percent completion had an 82 percent higher completion rate.

The endowed progress effect showed in this experiment that people’s motivation increases if they believe that they are closer to a goal of completing a task.

LinkedIn uses the endowed progress effect to encourage users to build the strength of their profile.

This heuristic has been translated online across a variety of platforms. Amazon for instance uses the endowed progress effect to make online shopping easier with multi-step process. Once an item has been added to the cart, the buyer is directed to a page to process the purchase.

If it is the buyer’s first time purchasing from Amazon, the process will begin at ‘Address’ which is step 2, with the first step ‘Welcome’ being already completed. For more seasoned Amazonians, the process begins even further down the process at ‘Pay’ to make the experience even easier. This is the endowed progress effect at work.

Social media sites also use the endowed progress effect to encourage users to build user profiles. LinkedIn, for example, sets goals for new users to strengthen their account by sharing a range of personal, educational and professional information.

Amazon uses the endowed progress effect to encourage users to complete the steps to close purchases.

Many different websites and platforms use the endowed progress effect as an engaging method of encouraging users to complete tasks. The simplicity of online shopping and distributing personal information online is something that we should be weary of.

Though the endowed progress effect is a relatively small psychological strategy in the grand scheme of things, it is incredibly powerful in influencing our behaviour.


  1. Nunes, J. & Drèze, X., 2006. The Endowed Progress Effect: How Artificial Advancement Increases Effort. Journal of Consumer Research, 32(4), pp.504–512.