Are You Being Manipulated by E-Commerce Sites?

As on-line shoppers we often depend on the reviews, comments, and purchases by other shoppers to help guide our decision-making. We see how many “likes” a product has received, and if it performed according to the promised description. We might even like to score a great deal on a hot trend that others are snapping up. What does Suzy from San Francisco know that I don’t know?

A common message on shopping sites is that “four other people are looking at this offer right now” or “Suzy from San Francisco just saved $202 on her order!” or “You just missed this great deal!” As it turns out, there often is no “Suzy from San Francisco” online scoping out the same deal as you. The messages are often fake; these are an example of something called “dark patterns,” which are online tactics that manipulate users into doing things that might not otherwise do.

These dark patterns directly benefit the company, not the consumer, and can be regarded by many people as fraud. (This happened to me recently when updating a standard software program – I kept clicking “next” without realizing that it was modifying my computer preferences!)

Lest we regard ourselves as lazy, consider that people do not read every word on every page all the time. We pick up on patterns and make assumptions. A “dark pattern” makes it difficult for the user to do something that does not benefit the company (such as cancelling an account). Companies can use color and design to mislead or trick users. A recent study from Princeton University used software to scan more than 10,000 sites. They found that more than 1,200 of the sites used tactics identified as “dark patterns.”

Here are some examples of dark patterns:

  • Sneak into basket – something is added to your basket because you didn’t opt-out
  • Roach motel – trying to get out of something such as a subscription service
  • Price comparison prevention – that makes it hard to compare the price of an item with another item
  • Disguised ads – that appear as content or navigation in order to gain clicks

Consumers need transparency from companies, not tricks to make us buy more.

Which dark pattern have you experienced?

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Poll students. Who checks review prior to buying something online?
  2. View video at Dark Patterns: https://www.darkpatterns.org/
  3. What have been the students’ experiences with dark patterns?
  4. Discuss the ethical considerations of marketing.
  5. Are dark patterns legal? Are dark patterns ethical?
  6. Divide students into teams. Have each team select an e-commerce site and review how to set up an account, cancel an account, and more.
  7. How many of the dark patterns can they find?

Source: Valentino-DeVries, J. (24 June 2019). How e-commerce sites manipulate you into buying things you may not want. New York Times.

 

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Designer Toothpaste, Anyone?

Some products have become so ubiquitous in our lives that we seldom consider how they might be updated to reflect current trends. Consider products such as hand soap, detergent, and toothpaste. After all, when was the last time you truly examined your toothpaste and thought about design and innovation? And what exactly are the ingredients in toothpaste? Go ahead, read the ingredient list and you are likely to uncover it contains components such as triclosan and saccharin. (The FDA has banned triclosan for hand soap, but it is ok to put those ingredients in our mouths? Huh?)

Given how nearly every product seems to be undergoing a make-over, it just seems logical for toothpaste to get an update for today’s consumers. Packaging and ingredients can both be updated, as well as how and where consumers buy it. Today’s newer toothpastes take lessons from the beauty product world, where design and price points vary and make the products more appealing as well.

Of course, revisions may not come cheaply. French company Buly 1803 sells $29 toothpaste in artfully designed packaging and in flavors including orange-clove-cinnamon. Sephora carries a coconut oil dental floss ($8) and a Lush sells a charcoal, kaolin clay, and gunpowder tea tablet that is chewed before brushing. Twice, a brand from musician/artist Lenny Kravitz, has a two-pack of toothpaste (one for morning, another for evening) that sells at $17 for the pair with proceeds going to help Bahama communities.

Go ahead. Read the labels and make your choice.

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Review key aspects of developing a product positioning map, including determining the axis labels for positioning.
  2. Show examples of new toothpaste:

Hello: https://www.hello-products.com/

Revolve: https://www.revolve.com/marvis/br/2677a2/?srcType=dp_des2

Sephora: https://www.sephora.com/product/cocofloss-P421244

Lush: https://www.lushusa.com/face/teeth/boom%21/04342.html?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI1-6V-LP33wIVA4vICh1cJAaeEAQYBSABEgIiFvD_BwE

Twice: https://www.smiletwice.com/

APA Beauty: https://apabeauty.com/apa-white-toothpaste.html

  1. Review toothpaste products. What other products are competitors?
  2. Divide students into teams and have each team develop a positioning map for one of the new companies.
  3. Have each team draw their map on the board.
  4. Debrief exercise.

Source: Shapiro, B. (4 April 2019). Is that chic toothpaste worth the price? New York Times.

 

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New Google Glass Enterprise Edition for Business

It’s been a while since Google Glass has been in the headlines. Remember Google Glass? In case you are not familiar with the product, it was pulled from the market in 2015 after complaints about the technology, usefulness, price, and privacy. The original product was focused on consumers as wearable technology to augment and share daily activities. The glasses had a smart heads-up display and camera, allowing users to connect to data and share information and images.

Google Glass was reformatted a few years ago to the ‘Enterprise Edition’ where the focus was on helping workers in a variety of jobs such as manufacturing, medicine, technology, and other areas. This was a departure from the original consumer-based product, and moved Glass into the business-to-business category. The new version of Glass Enterprise Edition 2 sells for $999 (compared to $1,500 for previous version) and has a new processor, improved camera, and other updates for safety and greater battery.

Repositioning is often difficult, and this repositions Glass from the consumer market to organization buying.

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Discuss the organizational buying process. Who would influence the decision-making?
  2. Show the newest incarnation of the product: https://www.blog.google/products/hardware/glass-enterprise-edition-2/
  3. Show Glass video: https://youtu.be/5IK-zU51MU4
  4. For Glass, have students work on the actions taken in each of the five steps.
    1. Problem recognition?
    2. Information search?
    3. Evaluative criteria?
    4. Purchase decision?
    5. Post-purchase behavior?
  5. What are key considerations in each step?
  6. Debrief the exercise.

Source: The Verge, Google

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