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Sneaky way online shops fool you into buying more

Pictured: Woman shops online in Christmas sales, Australian cash flying in the wind. Images: Getty
Have you fallen for these? Images: Getty

Australians are keen to cut back on spending this year with nearly one in two setting spending limits.

But sneaky online shopping techniques can still see you blow your shopping budget, a new study has found.

The Princeton University and University of Chicago analysis of 53,000 product pages on 11,000 online stores found that stores used a number of techniques to get shoppers to buy more. In fact, around one-in-10 stores analysed (11 per cent) used tricky maneuvers to get shoppers to pay more, through what the researchers called “dark patterns”.

Some were fairly obvious but effective, like taxes and shipping fees tacked on at the end, by which time the shopper has already decided to purchase the item and simply accepts the unwelcome surcharge.

But others are more cunning.

If you’ve ever come across a website with a clock counting down either on a sale or items in your shopping cart, there’s a fair chance the store might be trying to convince you to buy it now by creating a sense of urgency. And sometimes that countdown isn’t even accurate - it might start from the beginning once you refresh the page.

Limited-time Message on The website claims the sale will end ‘soon’ without stating a deadline. Image: Dark Patterns at Scale: Findings from a Crawl of 11K Shopping Websites
Limited-time Message on The website claims the sale will end ‘soon’ without stating a deadline. Image: Dark Patterns at Scale: Findings from a Crawl of 11K Shopping Websites

Sister to urgency is scarcity. Have you ever added something to your cart only to have a sign appear saying: “20 other people are looking at this product.” These are designed to convince you that many people are shopping quickly and you should too, or risk missing out.

Others use language to persuade you to sign up for emails and membership plans by using pop-up boxes. They’ll often suggest that shoppers who don’t want to subscribe to their emails “Don’t enjoy great deals”, and also present the ‘no’ option in significantly smaller text to convince shoppers to subscribe.

Those daily emails can also be incredibly difficult to cancel, meaning every time you open your inbox you’re greeted with a sale that you “just can’t miss”.

Be on the lookout: Christmas is around the corner

According to St. George Bank research, 43 per cent of Australians have spending limits for Christmas spending, and 31 per cent plan to give fewer gifts this year - which is why it’s critical to be on the look-out for nasty expenses.

“Despite our love of gift-giving, it seems securing that perfect gift for a loved one is far from enjoyable. According to our survey, a third of households would rather clean their house than deal with the stress of gift shopping,” said Ross Miller, general manager for St. George Bank.

In addition to being aware of deceptive online practices, shoppers can find other ways to cut back. St. George Bank noted that the average household has set a spending limit of $500 on presents, and then finding ways to cut back on the big day.

These include staying at home (29 per cent), putting on cheaper lunches (29 per cent), and drinking less alcohol (20 per cent).

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