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Cyber Monday dirty tactics revealed – how shops get you to spend more

It’s well known that retailers will try every trick in the book to get you to spend more – after all, your money is what keeps them afloat.

But with so much resting on the success of the festive spending season – starting with Black Friday and rolling through to the Boxing Day sales – it’s no surprise at all that Cyber Monday is seeing some of the top psychological tricks deployed.

To see what was going on, user experience agency Sigma decided to conduct some research – and found some of the biggest names in retail pushing some of the oldest tricks in the book.

Sigma managing director Hilary Stephenson said: “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!).”

This is what they found:

Amazon

  • "Black Friday prices" – in-demand electrical products with no discernible discount when compared to its normal prices for those items. Sigma found a phone that sold in Currys retailed for £779 without a discount, while Amazon offered it for £769 reduced from £999.
  • "Lightning deals" – Limited-time offers create a fear of losing out on a deal by making them extremely time-sensitive. This can pressure people into signing up without thinking things through.

Very.com

  • Going fast!’ – Sigma saw deals on Very.co.uk were marked as ‘Going fast!’ with ‘7 purchased in the last hour’. The worry is this could encourage ‘pressure’ sales by making shoppers feel they should buy immediately, or miss out.

ASOS

  • ‘Black Friday’ discount of 20% – ASOS was offering a Black Friday discount of 20%. Except it only applied if you entered a promotional code at the checkout and the ‘enter code’ box wasn’t in an obvious place. The worry here is people could decide to buy based on the discount, then forget to input it.

“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, Stephenson said."

Spotting the real deals and spending wisely

The most important thing to remember is that you almost never have to buy something right now.

In fact, no matter what the discount, if you don’t need it or won’t use it, it’s money that’s wasted.

Even if it is something you think you’ll use of need, resist time pressure. Especially as there are a LOT of sales over the course of a year and the Boxing Day ones will be on us pretty soon.

So how do you spot the real deals? Here are our top ways to beat retailer tricks:

  • Familiarise yourself with what to look for when you’re shopping online. This will help you wise up to the psychological tricks.

  • Be sure to do your own research – rather than rely on friends and other customers. Check out reviews on independent sites. Try sites such as Feefo and Trustpilot.

  • Shop around to check you are paying right price for items that you are buying. Useful sites when comparing prices include Kelkoo, Pricerunner and Pricesearcher.

  • Know what you want before you start shopping, and don’t get easily distracted.

  • To avoid getting sucked in by pricing tricks, only purchase what you planned to purchase. Bargains are only bargains if you need them.

  • Resist the temptation to purchase the special “add-on” product that gets presented to you just before you finish your transaction. Don’t buy something just because it’s “on sale.”

  • Delete the cookies in your browser’s preferences from time to time, as this will stop retailers from using this to track your personal data.

  • Think carefully before signing up to “one-click buying” as you can end up spending money far too quickly.

  • Never get rushed into making a quick decision. Always take your time to ensure you have done your homework so you know you are getting the item you want to buy at a good price. Don’t worry if the deal sells out. There are always savings to be made by using deal-sharing communities (such as HotUKDeals), as well as forums and price comparison tools.

  • Check for hidden costs, such as shipping or VAT, as these can increase the price of your purchase.

  • Don’t end up spending more than double what you planned to, just to take advantage of a “free shipping” offer.

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