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Study warns of online retailer tactics, impulse buying

(Xinhua)    09:23, April 25, 2019

(Photo/pixabay.com)

CHICAGO, April 24 (Xinhua) -- Researchers at the University of Michigan (UM) School of Information studied 200 of the top major online retailers and asked consumers what tools would be helpful to curb impulse buying.

According to a study posted on UM's website on Wednesday, the researchers selected sites to study from an industry report of the top internet retailers in the United States by online revenue. Of these 200 retail websites, 192 contained what the researchers call "social influence" features, which recommended products based on what "other people" bought.

As for other strategies, 69 percent of the websites used features like limited-time discounts with countdown clocks to increase the buyer's sense of urgency; 67 percent of the websites made the product seem scarce with low stock warnings or "exclusive" product offerings.

"One of the challenges consumers face when they go online is that they don't know what is true or not," said co-author Sarita Schoenebeck, associate professor at the UM School of Information. "If a website says there is one room left for the chosen dates or that a pair of shoes is a popular item and 12 other people are looking at it, people have no way of knowing if it is true."

In the second part of the study, the researchers surveyed consumers about their impulse-buying behaviors. Researchers recruited online shoppers who frequently made unplanned purchases. The survey asked about items they had purchased impulsively in the past, and about successful and unsuccessful strategies they used to try to resist making impulsive purchases.

The researchers found that the most common items people purchased impulsively were clothing, household items, children's items, beauty products, electronics and shoes.

Participants suggested a variety of ways to do less impulsive purchasing. They proposed that if shown what the amount they were spending was equivalent to, such as "8 Chipotle burritos" or "3 hours of work," that might help them to curb their impulse buying.

Participants also wanted tools that encouraged them to reflect on the items they were purchasing by prompting questions like "Do I really need this?" and "What would I use this for?"

The most unpopular approaches, however, suggested that they did not want to be embarrassed, shamed or controlled about their purchasing. Most participants did not want tools that required approval from someone else or that made them post their purchase to social media.

The researchers highlighted concerns about website designs that prioritize business goals over the welfare of people. These practices might trick people into doing things that are not in their best interest, a practice known as "dark patterns."

The researchers pointed out that interventions to support consumers are hard to do without the cooperation of the retailers, and suggested that greater transparency, ethical practices and even regulation might be needed.

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(Web editor: Wen Ying, Bianji)

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