Sneaky web retailer tricks that get you to buy

Posted August 16, 2019 9:18 a.m. EDT
Updated August 16, 2019 12:49 p.m. EDT

So you are shopping for something online, and a box pops up telling you the item is in high demand and almost sold out.

Perhaps it says that you have just 3 minutes to complete your order, with a countdown clock running.

Is that item really in high demand? A new report says it may just be a web retailer trick, often referred to as "dark patterns."

Phrases to watch for

Surge in online shopper a lure for scammers

The New York Times says web retailer popups give shoppers a sense of urgency and make your brain think that you need to buy now and not a second later.

The report cites one site with a popup saying "Alexandria from Anaheim just saved $222." But the Times claims there is no such person.

The report links to a recent Princeton University study finding this phenomenon on hundreds of popular retail websites.

It may say "only a few left." or "items in your cart are in high demand," or "your order is reserved for just 5 minutes."

And in most cases (with the exception of concert tickets) it's not true, according to the Times.

Doesn't that stink?

So from the "doesn't that stink" file, false urgency gets you to spend more.

If that shirt or shoes are in high demand, there's a good chance you will click "buy."

But if it's just trickery, and you realize that later, you may say "doesn't that stink?"

Bottom line: Don't feel pressured to click the buy button unless it is concert tickets, which will probably be gone if you close out the site.

The Times says if you feel high pressure, close out your browser, and search again later.

You don't need it that badly.

That way you don't waste your money.

Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of Scripps Media, Inc. For more consumer news and money saving advice, go to

John Matarese started Don’t Waste Your Money in 1999 to give consumers the facts and information needed to make the best buying decisions for their families. Over the past 20 years, Don't Waste Your Money has helped millions of consumers by providing in depth research and product information.