You’re not alone if you’ve been doing a lot more online shopping lately. One of the effects of COVID-19 on shopping behavior is encouraging (or requiring) people to shop more often and for a wider variety of items online. Online “window” shopping can also feel like a harmless way to fill time, except that once you’re on a website, the retailer has some enticing ways to encourage you to spend money, even if you promised yourself you were just going to look!

“Welcome” discounts

This tactic has become pretty much standard across clothing, cosmetic, skincare, and other specialty retailers: the first time you visit the website, a pop-up offers you a discount on your first order, and all you need to do is sign up with your email. The limited-time discount is an obvious incentive to purchase something now, but what might not be so obvious is that by giving out your email, you’re welcoming an onslaught of future targeted marketing and sales emails.

Loyalty or membership programs

This usually comes hand-in-hand with the welcome discount. By signing up for the discount and their emails, you’re joining their loyalty program (and they know how nice it feels to belong to an exclusive club!). This isn’t a scam—these programs come with genuine perks that can save you money, like free shipping, early sales notifications, special promotions, a discount on your birthday, etc. But it’s only a deal if the offers line up with your already planned spending. If they encourage you to spend money outside of your budget, it’s no longer a deal for you.

Recommended items

Pop-ups or space on the checkout page advertising additional products related to what you have in your cart or what you’ve recently viewed is kind of like a digital personal shopper—who wants you to buy just one more thing (or two!). Recommend items are an easy upsell strategy for retailers to put more products in front of you with tempting tags like “Other shoppers also liked/bought” or “Goes well with…” or “Add this to compliment/complete the look.”

“Abandoned cart” deals

If you put something in your digital cart but don’t finish the purchase process, the retailer might send you an email with a coupon to encourage you to finish your order.

Discounts based on amount of purchase

This discount scheme is used both off- and online. You can score a discount…but only if you spend a certain amount of money, which might be more than your original plan. Unless the discount brings your total under budget, the deal is only working in the seller’s favor.

Dynamic pricing

The price you see now for an item might not be the price you see tomorrow after you’ve looked at other websites. Dynamic pricing adjusts prices based on consumer and market behavior to try to provide you with a price point you’re willing to pull the trigger on. Another pricing tactic is to set a high “anchor price” on an item that makes all other product prices look like bargains.

Fast checkout

The easier and faster, the better because it leaves less time for you to reconsider your purchase. By saving your payment and shipping information, subsequent purchases can be made in fewer clicks. The express checkout option on websites like Amazon allows you to make a purchase with a single click or swipe.

Free shipping

Free shipping is often offered if you spend a minimum amount of money, so you feel obligated to buy more to pay less for the service you wouldn’t have had to pay for in store. These spending thresholds are often set above the average online order to increase sales. Alternatively, a seller might increase product prices to compensate for offering “free” shipping.

Free returns

Perhaps the biggest risk of shopping online is the possibility of having to make a return. Retailers know this, and to help you overcome this reservation, they’ll make sure they advertise free returns or a drop-off option at a local brick-and-mortar store. They also understand that once you have an item at home, there’s a chance you won’t go through the effort of returning it, even though the ease of returns was a reason you clicked “buy” in the first place!


Remember that welcome discount and loyalty program you signed up for? Well now you are a part of that company’s captured audience—they have regular access to your attention through your inbox. You don’t have to think about buying one of their products, they’ll remind you every time they send you a promotional email! Again, this isn’t a bad thing in itself; tailored discounts can help you spend less on items already in your budget. Just don’t fall for every flashy sale email they send you.

Targeted ads

Thanks to cookies saved to your computer after visiting a website, a company can retarget you on other websites with advertisements for items you viewed, favorited, or put in your cart but didn’t buy. They’re betting that the more often you see the object, the more you’ll think about it, want it, and eventually buy it.

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