QoD: What are the most popular "tricks" that shopping websites use to get us to buy more?

Feb 19, 2020
Behavioral Finance, Question of the Day, Purchase Decisions



  • Which of the following tactics have you seen on websites? 
  • Which of the top three "tricks" has the greatest impact on your behavior? Why? 
    • Running out of the product..only 3 left in stock
    • Flash sale only available for the next hour
    • A celebrity you follow loves this product too...
  • Why do you think these tactics are so effective? 

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Behind the numbers (WSJ; sub required):

The researchers found an online consignment and thrift store that generated messages based on fictitious names and locations for an unchanging list of products that was always indicated to be “just sold.” They found a specialty-bedding retailer that published the same discount prices for most products from day to day while also displaying a countdown timer indicating the “flash sale” would end in a few hours.

They also documented sites that surreptitiously added items to carts, published identical testimonials attributed to different customers and “confirmshamed” shoppers with messages such as “No thanks, I hate saving money” or “No thanks, I hate fun & games.”


Additional resource from CNN which highlights this research study: 

There's a reason you fall into the rabbit hole of online shopping. A new study breaks down a few wily ways digital retailers sucker shoppers into spending more and committing to hidden costs.

Websites, it turns out, employ a series of "dark patterns" meant to mislead or coerce online shoppers into making a decision that isn't always in their benefit, it says.
You may not know that term, but you've certainly encountered them online -- surprise fees at checkout, false scarcity, clicking away that pop-up by admitting no, you don't want a great deal.


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About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.