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Pssst. Hey there. Yeah, you! Would you like to buy a Thneed?
A Thneed's a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need!
For the first 90 days, you may try it for free!
For 90 days I won't bother you; I'll just let you be!
Just give me your credit card number, now, please.
You may cancel and not pay. I'm not being a tease.
If you cancel within 90 days and don't stall,
I swear that you won't have to pay, not at all!

We all know what happens on day 91, don't we? Haven't we all fallen into this trap at one time or another? We may use their product or service for a full 30 days, 90 days, or whatever time period, depending on the lure. It WOULD be fun to try it out, after all. And the salespersons are so persuasive. They make it downright easy to opt in and assure us that there's absolutely no obligation to buy or make any payment—as long as we opt out within the stated trial period. They convince us that it's also so easy to opt out.

Just give us a call; it's not hard at all!
Or cancel online on the Web; it's not hard at all, c'mon Deb!

These marketers are savvy in behavior psychology. They know that, for nearly all of us, it's easier to keep the status quo rather than change. Once we give them our credit card number, most of us are hooked. They succeeded in changing the status quo by making it so easy to do so. Now at the end of the trial period we need to take action to go back to the original status quo. But where are they THEN when we need them to hold our hands? It's awfully hard to take that action.

Are we lazy? No, that is far from a thorough explanation. On more than one occasion I forgot about the date the trial period ended, or confused it with a later date, and then discovered that I was charged for the item when I had every intention to cancel. The marketers are counting on that.

Harness Our Inertia

Certain utility companies have tried to pay their customers to make energy upgrades that will save the customers money year-after-year on their utility bills. You would think that we would all jump at the chance to take advantage of these programs. Yet, utilities have found that they often need to hold our hands along the entire process by assisting with finding contractors and inspecting the completed work. This can be onerous for the utility and the ratepayers.

Utility Company Executives, Energy Marketers, and Energy Conservation Organizations: Take Note

There are those among you who are starting to take advantage of what the pesky savvy marketers mentioned above have known for a long time. In Germany, a utility company was unsuccessful in signing up customers for its clean energy plan until the utility made the clean energy plan the default option. After the policy change, 94% of its customers "decided" to stay with the clean energy plan and only 6% opted out of it. Quite an accomplishment at no cost!

Does this reveal another reason for not opting out? Do we assume that the default is the accepted thing to do? When I download software, I certainly do!

If we were rational beings, we wouldn't have to resort to behavior psychology. But we often are not. It often makes sense—for our wallets, for our own wellbeing, or for society as a whole—to change our behavior. We know deep down inside that it makes sense to switch or change. Yet we won't make that change.


There are a variety of reasons for our inertia. In my November 29, 2010, blog posting I gave another reason for our irrational behavior: everybody else is doing it, so I need to too.

In coming posts, I'll look at other reasons we don't do what we know we should do to save energy. I'll point out ways we can alter this bad behavior of ours. I'll solicit your suggestions as well.