The tactics used by brands to fool shoppers into spending

New research reveals the tactics used by big name brands, such as Amazon, River Island and Just Fab, to trick shoppers into spending more at Christmas on their mobile sites.

As Christmas approaches and brings with it some of the busiest shopping days of the year, new research has uncovered the tricks and tactics that retailers including Amazon, Just Fab, and River Island are using on their mobile sites to pressure shoppers into spending.

Amazon is pushing shoppers to sign up to its Amazon Prime service without stipulating clearly that the free trail would roll into a monthly payment of £7.99. By having a bright yellow button which says ‘FREE one-day delivery – pay later’ at the checkout, customers could be lured in into signing up to this service, not knowing that a subscription charge would be taken monthly as soon as the 30-day trial period was over, as mentioned in the small print.

Another brand, women’s fashion e-tailer Just Fab, uses a scare tactic to convince customers to sign up to its subscription service. The brand advertises special offers for ‘VIP members’ and displays a countdown graphic for the discounts, which don’t apply to those that aren’t a member. It isn’t abundantly clear that by signing up to be a VIP member, customers will be charged £35 on a monthly basis.

And it’s not just money that brands are trying to squeeze out of customers. River Island was revealed to be prioritising data collection over its customers’ experience online, by not allowing customers to checkout without going through the lengthy process of creating an account – where they then collected data from shoppers such as their email address.

The research, by user experience (UX) agency Sigma, evaluates the hidden strategies that some brands are using on their mobile sites to boost sales. In 2015 UK retailers took £24 billion in sales over the Christmas period, nearly half of which were completed on a mobile device, so it’s likely that more customers will fall victim to these tactics as they begin their Christmas shopping.

Hilary Stephenson, managing director at Sigma, thinks that brands pressuring customers into buying isn’t something new. Clever marketing strategies are one thing, but signing customers up to expensive subscriptions without their knowledge because guidelines are buried in small print, for example, is another.

Stephenson says, ‘In our research, we found several big brands are using what we call dark user experience – where an interface is crafted to trick users into doing something – in an attempt to up their sales. And as consumers are going to be spending more in the run up to Christmas, we wanted to shed some light on the issue in the hope that more people won’t fall into these traps.

‘Shoppers should be wary that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It’s important to read the small print (it’s small for a reason) before making any purchase that could be signing you up to a subscription service without your prior knowledge, as you probably won’t get the cash back once it’s gone.’

He concludes, ‘Brands shouldn’t be using unethical tactics to make money, and they will only take ownership of doing so if the light is shone on the issue, which is what we hope to achieve with this research.’

Further reading on tricks and tactics

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Freddie Halvorson

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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