Translating Behavioral Science Insights into Action: The Story of Quinn

Posted on May 17, 2020

The field of Behavioral Economics generates many ideas to increase financial empowerment each year, yet most never find their way into the hands of consumers. Like other fields deeply rooted in academic theory, Behavioral Economics often suffers from a lack of translatory power - the inability to transform theories of behavior change into innovative solutions. That is, until now.

The status quo was shattered in 2017 when University of Pennsylvania researchers Garrett Meccariello and Tobias Nasgarde submitted a proposal to the Think Forward Initiative’s research challenge. The grant offered the opportunity to explore topics related to financial decision-making, one leg of the Initiative's outreach, innovation, and acceleration practices.

The pair hypothesized that consumers could be nudged, or actively encouraged to change their spending habits when shopping online. Meccariello and Nasgarde’s hypothesis paid off when their Think Forward Initiative-sponsored research yielded impressive results. By simply displaying a message reminding shoppers of their financial goals before they made a purchase online, the average order total dropped 24%.


When the results of the experiment demonstrated great potential, the pair took it upon themselves to take the project further. Using resources available at their University, the duo architected a digital solution that transformed the insights from their experiment into a scalable change agent. It was at that moment, Quinn was born.

Quinn is a Chrome browser extension that monitors web traffic for online shopping, and when identified, displays messages reminding users of their financial aspirations before they can make a purchase. Users who install Quinn find themselves in an elite group of super-savers, on their way to holistic financial empowerment.

Quinn’s founder Garrett Meccariello attributes the early success to the Think Forward Initiative. “The Think Forward Initiative gave me the spark to take our research and turn it into a product that my friends could use”, Meccariello says. “Seeing what other members in the TFI community are doing to change behavior is electrifying. We knew there was potential in the research, all we needed was an innovative platform to launch us forward.”

At first, the process of translating insights into a desirable product was challenging. Meccariello recalls, “If I were to take our recommendations straight from our research report, Quinn wouldn’t attract many users. Had the messages been set to display immediately when the shopping website loaded, it would annoy a lot of people. If the algorithms determined that paying a bill was shopping, Quinn would induce unnecessary friction.”

“Building Quinn was like baking a cake: we had to get the ingredients just right”

There were also challenges ensuring the intent of the research was not lost in the design process. “If I designed a product that was pretty to use, but not rigorous enough to reduce spending - our research wouldn’t have an impact. By keeping my toes in both the research and product development circles, I was able to identify a need in the market and develop a solution.”

Meccariello likens the process of building Quinn to baking a cake: “We had to get the ingredients just right, so that Quinn reduced spending, but did not place unnecessary burden on users.” What makes a well-intentioned behavioral economics intervention may not always be appealing to the target audience.

Garrett appreciates the TFI community for connecting him with the teams at IBM, Deloitte, AWS, and ING. “They’ve all provided valuable feedback and a new perspective to what Quinn’s purpose, vision, and potential could be. Quinn is not just some browser extension, it’s a tool, validated by science, that can be shared with hundreds if not thousands of people around the world for less than the cost of a newspaper subscription. It’s not everyday you can stand back and marvel at the impact you can make, but today is that day”.

The Think Forward Initiative serves as a community for cutting edge product designers, researchers, and changemakers to collaborate and make an impact with their work. Quinn recently launched on the Google Chrome store and everyone involved in the project is looking forward to its success.

Download Quinn today.