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Black Friday & Cyber Monday – retail “tricks” revealed

Hilary Stephenson

Latest reports show that Black Friday and Cyber Monday were worth a combined total of £7 billion to the retail sector this year, with the majority of shoppers making purchases online. Contributor Hilary Stephenson, Managing Director – Sigma.

However, these figures could be partly due to the website design tactics used by the UK’s biggest retailers to ‘trick’ people into spending more online. New research has exposed some of these techniques and how they may use behavioral psychology principles to drive sales.

Amazon was found to have employed a number of strategies to encourage shoppers to spend. Firstly, it was offering in-demand electrical products, with no discernible discount when compared to other retailers. For example, a phone in Currys retailed for £779 without a discount, while Amazon claimed the same device was £779 reduced from £999. Amazon’s ‘lightning deals’ – or limited offers – also help to create a fear of losing out on a deal by making them extremely time-sensitive.

Fashion retailer ASOS was offering a ‘Black Friday’ discount of 20 percent – but only if you enter a promotional code. However, the ‘enter code’ box wasn’t in an obvious place during the checkout process. The brand is therefore promising customers a discount, but later encouraging them to forget to input it.

Similarly, Jacamo was offering a ‘code only’ Black Friday offer, which was difficult to see on the home screen. Furthermore, during the checkout process, the ‘enter code’ form only appeared on the basket page after signing in, but if you signed up as a new user, you were taken straight to the checkout page, bypassing the discount code option – meaning new users had to put in extra effort to get their discount.

During the registration process one of the ‘sign up’ buttons, actually added shoppers to the company’s mailing list. Moreover, during registration the form pre-selected an opt-in – for a ‘Jacamo Pay’ credit account.
Researchers found that lifestyle retailer may have been encouraging ‘pressure’ sales. By stating that particular sales items are ‘Going fast!’ with ‘7 purchased in the last hour,’ shoppers may feel that they should buy immediately, or face the disappointment of the items selling out.

River Island
River Island was shown to be prioritising data collection over its customers’ privacy, with a near-invisible ‘opt-out’ tick box at checkout stage. Not only does this potentially confuse shoppers, but it doesn’t meet recognised best-practice accessibility guidelines on colour contrast.

The fashion e-commerce site could be capitalising on the ‘fear of missing out’ by urging customers to complete their purchases before a ‘limited’ delivery offer is no longer available. However, it is unclear whether the offer is genuinely limited. Shoppers may once again feel compelled to buy an item at that moment, instead of taking time to reflect on whether it is what they really want or need.

Commenting on the findings, Hilary Stephenson, managing director at Sigma, said: “The examples listed above are just a brief overview of what we know is happening across the entire retail industry, when websites are designed with ‘mind tricks’ to confuse consumers into making a purchase.

“These tactics take advantage of customer desires to find a bargain on Black Friday and Cyber Monday and are likely to have been deliberately implemented for this reason. Perhaps the most worrying finding within this year’s Black Friday research was that customers are automatically being signed up to credit accounts which, in the wrong hands, could create unexpected personal debt”.

“We advise shoppers to take care when it comes to ‘sales’ events, as – evidently – they can be rife with ‘dark user experience’ practices. Always read the small print (even if it might not be immediately obvious where that is!)”

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