Image of the goal gradient effect

Goal Gradient Effect


The goal gradient effect means that as people or animals get closer to achieving a reward they accelerate their behaviour to progress towards the goal. People are more motivated by how much is left to reach their target rather than how far they have come.

Image of the goal gradient effect

Psychologists monitored behaviour during a real café reward program where customers were given a free coffee after completing ten purchases. They found that customers purchased coffee more frequently the closer they were to receiving a free coffee.

Customers of a music rating website were offered reward certificates to encourage them to rate songs. Those users who were offered reward certificates visited the site more frequently, rated more songs per visit and put more effort into rating songs as they got closer to the reward goal.

Image of goal gradient effect using cafe reward program


Even the illusion of progress towards a reward can be motivational. In the experiment with a café reward program two “bonus” stamps were pre-completed on 12 stamp promotional cards. Other customers received standard 10 stamp cards. However, customers who received the 12 stamp card (with 2 stamps already populated) completed the 10 required purchases faster than those who received the standard 10 stamp card.

The stronger the customer’s inclination to accelerate towards the reward the higher their retention rate and the quicker they re-engaged with the program.


Ensure that progress indicators are prominent and lean towards the end goal in registration and check-out forms. People are motivated by the illusion of progress and so begin by showing progress even at step 1 of your form or checkout.


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Rewards and motivations – The psychology of rewards & how to motivate your customers.

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