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Tricks of the trade: how online customer journeys create consumer harm and what to do about it

1 December 2022

Tricks of the trade: how online customer journeys create and consumer harm and what to do about it [ 2.4 mb]

Online shopping is easy and smooth, offering consumers greater choice, information and accessibility.However, consumers are not always getting the best outcomes. 

  • 27% of consumers have regretted something they bought online

  • 24% have ended up spending more than they expected to

  • 26% of consumers felt they spent an excessive amount of time trying to find information

Why is this the case? Our new report brings together research and examples from behavioural economics and impactful regulatory interventions that show the design of online shopping is crucial in how consumers make choices.

  • More than two in five people (41%) now think websites often make it too easy to make the wrong choice

Design isn’t neutral - the way that choices are presented to consumers when they make decisions has a significant impact on what choices they make. Firms already know this and regularly use design tricks to get consumers to make the choices which generate the most profit, rather than supporting consumers in their decision making. 

We argue that there is a strong case for regulating digital design. What’s needed is an outcomes-based framework requiring businesses to put consumers at the heart of design - and in some cases, design practices are so poor that they should simply be banned. 

Generally, we think that firms should hold responsibility for making decisions around design, so long it is done so within a framework which puts good consumer outcomes. However, where products or services carry higher risks then there is a case for setting out more clearly how design should be used to avoid consumer harm. Our report examines how specific changes to design can reduce serious harm in three high-risk business areas: Buy Now Pay Later, online gambling and subscriptions traps - which you can find below.

BNPL [ 1.9 mb]

Online gambling [ 4.2 mb]

Subscriptions traps [ 2.5 mb]

Technical Annex - CogCo report on BNPL behavioural experiments [ 3.6 mb]