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Peloton versus Noom: How decision fatigue can cost you customers

Lessening the cognitive load for your customers may win them over the long term. The more decisions your customers have to make to see the benefits of your company, the more likely it is they'll leave you when decision fatigue sets in. Good product design preserves their mental energy and you get loyal customers for the long term.

I have tried so many diet and fitness products and services that it feels like I’ve tried them all. Remember The Zone? The South Beach Diet? Tried both. Herbalife. Paleo. There were real-life personal trainers and virtual ones. And then there were the weight training apps to yoga DVDs. You get the idea.

Am I a hot mess? No. But, I do love wellness and I love learning about what’s out there first-hand. And yet...most programs don’t work over the long haul, so I move on.

Why don’t many products and services stick with us – not only in wellness but across all categories? Why do customers abandon some brands but hang in with others? It's never just one thing, but here's the truth: businesses need to pay attention to how much they're making their customers think. Because if your customers have decision fatigue, you could lose them. My personal experiences with Noom and Peloton are a good illustration of why.

But first…

Why you need to care about your customers’ decisions

Our brains aim for efficiency and much of our decision-making doesn’t involve a lot of time or energy. If we had to think through every possible tradeoff for what we should eat for lunch or wear to work, we’d go insane.

So we satisfice. We take shortcuts.

Deciding quickly saves mental energy. When you slow down to make a decision, you gather information, predict outcomes, and consider tradeoffs. Doing this a lot throughout the day leads to decision fatigue, and a fatigued brain is more prone to rash decisions or errors in judgment.

In other words, each time you slow down to make a choice, you'll be less likely to make truly thoughtful choices as the day goes on.

If your wellness app needs you to make a dozen decisions while you're also making other life choices, something is going to give. And it’s almost never going to be the case that you’ll abandon your responsibilities to stick with a wellness app.

Noom gave me decision fatigue

Noom is a weight loss app that leverages behavioral science and psychology to teach you how to change your habits so you can lose weight. I used Noom about two years ago, and this was my experience. First, Noom asked me to process new educational information every day. Then, it wanted me to use what I learned to make thoughtful choices several times a day. I had to seriously consider every option at the grocery store, during meal prep, and when I went out to lunch with coworkers or friends. I had to choose when I wanted to eat my well-earned cheat treat, or which of several healthy options were most likely to satiate me. I had to choose when to fit in my 10,000 steps (which is a strategic decision during Seattle’s winters). On top of all that, I had to record all my meals in the app.

It was mentally exhausting. Don’t get me wrong: Noom is informative, and it worked. I dropped a ton of weight and felt great. But I couldn’t juggle the decisions the app was guiding me to make with the decisions my life and job expected me to make.

I started to slip. First, I started choosing impulsively. Then, after too many pizza nights, I quit.

Peloton protects my cognitive bandwidth

Before I go on, I don’t have a Peloton bike (I have an old-school spin bike), so I am evaluating only the Peloton app.

Peloton only expects me to make two choices, each only once per day. The first decision is "Am I going to work out today?" This is a basic binary decision: either I do it or I don’t. And the trade-off is also simple for me: either I let myself down or I don’t. It's not easy to rally every day, but the choice itself is straightforward and low on cognitive load.

The second decision is "What kind of workout do I want to do?" This involves some thinking, but unlike Noom, which educates and then sends you off to design your own choice set, Peloton gives its users options. It also categorizes those options and allows you to filter them down. The more you use the app, the easier decision-making becomes. You learn which trainers and types of workouts you don't like so you can filter them out. Now, every time I use the app, I find myself choosing between a manageable number of great curated choices. Not a cognitively exhausting decision to make.

Once you start a workout, Peloton removes all choice from the equation. The trainers tell you exactly what your workout will involve, and they specifically instruct you to not think. To just do.

In other words, "You made it! Now all you have to do is pedal."

Long-Term Customers versus Short-Term Customers

Like I wrote earlier, it’s never just one thing that causes people to walk away from a brand. People value different things and at different times. What might be great for one person may not be what another is looking for. But whether they know it or not, your customers are always asking themselves, “Does this make my life easier or harder?”

Peloton asks me to change a single habit: fire up the app once a day. After that, the very few choices it asks me are easy.

Noom expects so much more.

I’m not seeing the same results with Peloton that I saw with Noom, but I don’t care. It's easy on my brain so I’m going to stick with it. This means the Peloton app doesn't have to do much to keep me engaged. It only has to be what it is.

Are you asking your customers to make too many choices? Are you losing customers because of it? Reach out to get help or learn more.


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