Arm Yourself for Cyber Monday

First, we want to wish you and all yours, a Happy and safe  Thanksgiving. We are so thankful for you.

As we prepare our homes and tables for one of our country’s favorite holidays, an industry of marketers and algorithm-developers is busily preparing its websites to entice, urge, cajole, and maybe even mislead us into buying goods we otherwise might not. 

Your best defense against this adversary is knowledge. Today’s Brief is aimed at arming you with defenses against the all-too-common practices of manipulation that are arrayed against you every time you sign onto an e-commerce site, from the best to the worst. 

An early pioneer of how we humans are influenced was Robert Cialdini. In his book, “INFLUENCE: The Psychology of Persuasion,” Cialdini reasoned that “automatic, stereotyped behavior is prevalent in much of human action, because in many cases it is the most efficient form of behaving.” We use prices to judge the quality or wine, restaurants, clothing and so on. We subconsciously assume that five-ton dump truck speeding toward us will stay on his side of the yellow line. “Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them” as observed by British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead.

The Weapons of Influence

There are six weapons of influence according to Dr. Cialdini, and they are used with costly effect on us in today’s e-commerce marketplace.

Reciprocation: “The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.” We feel and can become obligated to repay gifts, favors, and invitations today with reciprocal purchases.

Commitment and Consistency: We have a “nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.” Isn’t it spooky how well Amazon and others know what we just bought or read about, maybe even thought about buying?

Social Proof: Facebook is the most formidable advertising giant on the planet because they know so much about us. That knowledge is sold to marketers who cunningly weaponize it through social proof. Social proof “states that one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct.” Facebook provides that information like never before.  Testimonials can be used, even manipulated to have their desired effect on like-minded consumers. 

Liking: We prefer to buy from people and companies we know and like. The best e-marketers get us to like them by finding the right balance of thanks for our business and buy reminders, surprisingly on target. 

Authority: This is the classic “expert” testimonial. Sometimes, the person wielding the authority weapon of influence need not actually be an expert, but instead is just someone dressed as an expert. 

Scarcity:  The rule states that “opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited.” Potential loss is one of the most powerful drivers of human decision-making. Most websites today show quantities of supply and many use countdowns and days remaining to get us to decide with our emotions driving rather than our minds. 

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Jo Craven McGinty has an article revealing Tricks Online Retailers Use to Get You to Spend More. She reports the results of a study done by Princeton University and the University of Chicago after examining 53,000 product pages from 11,000 shopping websites, which found that 11% used “dark patterns” (weapons of influence) “to exploit online shoppers’ emotions, insecurities and biases.”

Source: Wall Street Journal

As you can see in the chart above, the weapons used most often were Scarcity and it’s first cousin, Urgency. McGinty noted that “In some cases, the notifications may be authentic. But the researchers documented instances when limited-stock counts were created by random-number generators; countdown timers restarted when a web page was refreshed; and high-demand messages appeared for every item in a cart.”

These weapons touch not just online shopping experiences, but every aspect of our lives where emotions can cause us to make bad decisions. The best defense against our human vulnerabilities is integral to the process we employ every day with our clients: A goal-based plan tempered by knowledge and understanding of the threats that can undo it if ignored.

Happy Thanksgiving and Wise Bargain-Hunting