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By (February 2, 2009) ()

This afternoon I decided to buy contact lenses online, encountering a persuasive techniquejust a bit sleazy, yet fairly common. On it’s surface it seems innocent. Free shipping was advertised generously on every page of the site, and indeed the shipping was free. Yet, on the second to last page before the purchase confirmation, just below the $0.00 amount for the free shipping, the unfriendly fee of $9.99 was listed, for “handling”.
In the language of persuasive technology, I was lead down a tunnel interface of choices, where every screen required certain pieces of information in a locked-in forcing function. Every completed page revealed the next screen in a series of interactions, all part of an online transaction process. The persuasion was completed in two parts. Part I: convince me the free shipping was a good enough reason to conduct my transaction at this particular online merchant. Part II: Take the user (me) through the majority of the tunnel process, only revealing the final superfluous charge one stage before completion, tempting the user to complete the transaction. In addition to the near completion acting as a persuasive agent, I would add that the percentage of the total cost (8% ) was low enough to push me into clicking the final link.
In the end, I chose a different merchant. I had multiple reasons for doing this, and online merchants should be paying attention to this sort of behavior. The notion of lowered transaction costs if nothing else has become stronger with broadband, faster rendering, better search results. So I had 4 other contact lens merchants open. But more important in this case, I’ve been around the block enough times to be willing to spend an extra 3 minutes not to fall prey to a deceptive practice just for the sake of convenience. To put that in more general terms, online consumers, already a sophisticated bunch, have matured to the degree that deceptive persuasive strategies become easily transparent and a cause for change of course.

February 2, 2009

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