When COVID-19 lockdowns started in March and brick-and-mortar stores became mostly off-limits, consumers flocked to shop online, driving a monumental growth spurt in online spending.  According to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, e-commerce sales grew more than 30% between the first and second quarters of 2020; in the second quarter of 2020, Americans spent $211.5 billion online. Though panic buying and other consumer trends — like spending more time on social media — were largely responsible for the surge in online spending, e-retailers were quick to pull out tricks — or dark patterns — to lure shoppers into spending more.

“A dark pattern is a design practice that is intentionally created to mislead a user or have them do something that they wouldn’t normally do,” said Tyler Andersen, senior product designer at ConsumerTrack.

While many of these dark patterns — like cross-selling and targeted ads — are not new e-commerce practices, usage of them has intensified since the pandemic began.

“Online retailers have been caught between a rock and a hard place during COVID-19,” said Michael Bonebright, senior editor at Deal News. “On the one hand, online shopping has exploded in 2020 as quarantine has forced people to buy necessities without stepping into stores [with] huge retailers like Amazon struggling to meet demand. On the other hand, coronavirus, tariffs and issues with the USPS have led to major delays in shipping. As a result, retailers that are smaller than Amazon — everyone, basically —  are desperate to move old stock and make sales. The constant stream of clearance events — combined with a lot of spare time for online shopping — leaves consumers vulnerable to shady sale practices.”

Clearly, there may be more risks to online shopping than you think.

Last updated: Oct. 1, 2020

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