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9 Feb 2022

70% of people have fallen victim to 'sneaky' online sales tactics

The Competition and Markets Authority says some online businesses are using schemes 'designed to manipulate shoppers'

A majority of people (70% ) have experienced misleading sales tactics while shopping online, according to a new poll of 2,087 UK adults by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

The regulator said it had grown 'increasingly concerned' about the impact of 'sneaky' tactics - including fake reviews, subscription traps and hidden charges - on consumers.

In the poll, 85% of those who said they had experienced misleading sales tactics also believed businesses were being 'dishonest' with their customers.

Find out how to spot a fake review with our in-depth guide.

Consumers' biggest concerns

The respondents ranked their biggest online shopping concerns as:

  • Hidden charges (85%) - unexpected compulsory fees, charges or taxes being added when someone tries to make an online purchase
  • Subscription traps (83%) - misleading a customer into signing up to, and paying for, an unwanted subscription that can be difficult to cancel
  • Fake reviews (80%) - reviews which do not reflect an actual customer's genuine opinion or experience of a product or service
  • Pressure selling (50%) - a tactic used to give a false impression of the limited availability or popularity of a product or service

The CMA said such practices were carefully designed to manipulate shoppers and as a result caused stress and anxiety, as well as significant financial and emotional harm. The issue is exacerbated by the fact that these practices are often hard to spot and people don't know how to avoid them.

It has launched an awareness-raising publicity campaign fronted by TV presenter Angellica Bell, titled 'The Online Rip-Off Tip-Off,' which calls on people to report misleading practices to Citizens Advice.

Follow our guide to online shopping for tips on how to stay safe and shop smart online.

Which? calls on big tech to take responsibility

Which? has repeatedly exposed the ways in which unscrupulous sellers on marketplaces, including Amazon and eBay, dupe consumers with fake reviews as well as substandard and sometimes dangerous products.

Last year we launched a campaign demanding new laws be introduced by the government to make tech giants protect consumers online.

The #JustNotBuyingIt campaign, which has been signed by more than 88,000 people, calls on online businesses to take responsibility for harmful content including scam ads and fake reviews.

Sign our petition to make tech giants take more responsibility for scams, dangerous products and fake reviews.

Responding to the CMA research, Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said: 'We have repeatedly found that shoppers are at risk of being misled online by businesses using dubious tactics, such as fake reviews, that result in people being ripped off and often ending up with poor quality products that don't live up to expectations.

'The government has set out plans to tackle some of these exploitative online practices as part of its consumer and competition reforms and should introduce new laws in this year's Queen's Speech to banish these practices as soon as possible.