No one would have thought that in the comfort and peace of our homes we would make more prudent consumer decisions. But the opposite is often true. Without realising it most of the time, when we shop from behind a monitor, we are guided by marketing strategies at least as, if not more, insidious than in shopping centres. How to spot them and not be fooled by them?
The importance of the so-called online marketing industry in internet sales is skyrocketing, and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down. Thanks to insights from fields such as psychology and behavioural economics, complex tools tailored to the human brain are emerging. As well as messing with your head, they can also put a serious dent in your wallet.
One of the easiest ways to get a customer to abandon their normal rational thinking and start taking shortcuts is to give them a sense of urgency and the need for quick decisions and action. “At the moment when you are hesitating and contemplating a purchase, few things will make you decide to buy the goods as quickly as a message about a limited-time offer or the threat of the last remaining item in stock,” says Eduarda Hekšová, director of the consumer organisation dTest, adding: “Combined with an indication of how many customers have already bought the product in the last few days or even hours, which some e-shops also provide, the recipe for a rash purchase is out of the question.” The perception of exclusivity works similarly – limited editions of popular products encourage customers to buy faster and in greater quantities.
Marketers are keen to exploit so-called loss aversion. Taken the other way, it’s the lure of savings. This is where various forms of price manipulation and even price gouging come in. However, a quick search reveals that high discounts are often false or distorted by artificially inflating the original price. To increase sales, retailers often offer packages of benefits or “gifts” when you spend over a certain amount – usually free shipping or a money-back guarantee.
Beware, however. When you buy from online shops, you always have the right to return goods without giving a reason within 14 days of receiving them by law (with a few exceptions). Moreover, businesses are forbidden to brag about something that is their legal obligation. “Guarantees beyond the law are built on the principle of human aversion to risk – it’s easier to spend money on goods that someone will guarantee. However, consider how many times you actually return goods that you are not satisfied with or that lose their function, and how many times you wave your hand over it after a while,” explains Eduarda Hekšová.
When selecting from multiple products or service packages, the anchoring principle is used again – it is proven that customers tend to choose the “middle way”, so e-shop offers are tailored so that the medium-priced product is the one that is needed to sell.
What do people have a bigger soft spot for than compliments and gifts? One well-worn marketing maxim is – give away what you can. The social media boom, and especially its fascination with brands, has opened the door for retailers to a whole new way to reach the customer’s “heart” – through the role of the loyal and attentive friend.The company will answer any query day or night, send you a weekly offer tailored to your taste with a nice touch, and if you were generous in providing personal details when you signed up, it will even wish you a happy birthday and maybe throw in an incentive discount on your purchase. If you’ve recently browsed an item but haven’t ordered anything yet, she’ll be happy to remind you or offer you a limited-time discount on that particular product. Plus, it publishes interesting and informative content about topics that interest you. And if you share and comment on her posts, you might even have a chance to win something.
There may be nothing wrong with this, just don’t get carried away with this strategy and always consider whether the chance of winning, for example, is worth it to you to become an unpaid promoter of a retailer or brand. Especially with older or lonely people, this “friendly” communication can lead to trouble. “Remember that the main goal of a business is always maximum profit, and a nice position can be as fake as a positive user review to some extent,” concludes Eduarda Heksova.