Online shoppers warned to take care before they ‘drink and click’

Shoppers may be more vulnerable to misleading sales tactics when they are feeling distracted or tired, the Competition and Markets Authority said.

24 March 2022

Online shoppers are being warned to take care before they “drink and click”.

More than half (54%) of late-night online shoppers have browsed for deals while drinking alcohol, according to the competition watchdog.

More than four-fifths (86%) have shopped online while watching TV, a survey for the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found.

And seven in 10 (70%) shop while scrolling on social media.

The watchdog said that, with nearly a third of retail purchases taking place online, it was concerned people may be leaving themselves vulnerable to misleading sales tactics.

The findings from the survey of more than 2,000 people were released as part of the CMA’s new campaign – the Online Rip-Off Tip-Off – to help shoppers spot and avoid misleading tactics.

The latest phase of the campaign warns shoppers they can be manipulated more easily when they are in certain states of mind – if they are hungry, distracted or tired, for example. And it advises all shoppers to be careful before they “drink and click”.

George Lusty, senior director for consumer protection at the CMA, said: “As the cost of living continues to rise, every penny we spend must count.

“We’re increasingly concerned about online businesses using sales tactics to push people into parting with their cash.

“And the time of day or mindset you’re in when shopping can make you more vulnerable to being unwittingly misled.”

The CMA highlighted four common tactics which may lead to customers being misled:

1. Subscription traps – misleading a customer into signing up to, and paying for, an unwanted subscription that can be difficult to cancel;

2. Hidden charges – unexpected compulsory fees, charges or taxes being added when someone tries to make an online purchase;

3. Pressure selling – giving a false impression of availability or popularity of a product or service;

4. Fake reviews – feedback that does not reflect an actual customer’s genuine opinion or experience of a product or service. If a review is vague and fails to give much detail, this could be a giveaway sign.

If people in England and Wales want further advice or wish to report a concern they should contact Citizens Advice, the CMA said.

People in Scotland should contact Advice Direct Scotland, and shoppers in Northern Ireland should contact the Consumer Council.

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