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Web retailers using 'dark patterns' to manipulate customers, New York Times reports

Sites create false urgency to make you spend
Posted at 4:32 PM, Jul 16, 2019

It's nothing new for online shoppers — pop-up boxes that claim a specific item is in high demand and nearly sold out. Sometimes the box includes a countdown clock, urging shoppers to check out quickly before time runs out.

But how do shoppers know if those items are really in high demand? According to a June report in the New York Times, they may not be.

The Times says those pop-ups and countdown clocks might be "dark patterns" — web retailer tricks that manipulate demand levels.

According to the Times, dark pattern pop-ups give shoppers a sense of urgency and make them think they need to buy a product immediately.

According to the Times, online resale store ThredUp constantly tells customers how much others have been saving — messages like "Alexandra from Anaheim just saved $222." But according to the Times investigation, those names, places and numbers are from a randomized database and presented as an actual purchase.

The report links to a recent Princeton University study, which found similar practices on hundreds of popular retail websites.

Other dark patterns claim that there are "only a few left," or that "items in your cart are in high demand," or that "your order is reserved for just five minutes."

In most cases (with the exception of concert tickets) it's not true, according to the Times.

False urgency causes the average customer to be more likely to purchase a product — especially if they think an item is in high demand.

Bottom line: Customers shouldn't feel pressured to click the "buy" button unless shopping for concert tickets — which will probably be gone if the shopper leaves the site.

The Times says that shoppers that feel the pressure should close out your browser and search again later.

That way, you don't waste your money.


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