OpinionAm I Pressure Selling?: Understanding the UK Government CMA Investigation Into Booking Sites

By 

Marjorie Leonidas

 on 

December 20, 2017

The UK Government’s Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into the selling practices of online booking sites, like travel and ticketing, and whether consumer law has been broken.

The UK Government’s Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into the selling practices of online booking sites, like travel and ticketing, and whether consumer law has been broken.

The CMA is concerned that consumers are not being given information that is clear, accurate and presented in a way that enables people to choose the best deal for them. They are looking into whether the information on some sites is making it difficult for people to make truly independent choices when shopping online.

One particular concern is pressure selling, and whether claims about how many people are looking at the same room, same concert ticket, about how many may be left or how long a price is available for (for example),create a false impression of availability or coerce consumers.  

Take the example of a familiar room reservation message, like “Only 3 rooms left at this price.” On the face of it, most consumers would assume that room availability is running low and, if you really need a place to stay on a particular date, the worry is that you could miss out. However, it’s often not the case. There might be only 3 rooms left on that particular site’s allocation, but that doesn’t mean that booking with other OTAs (online travel agency), or with the hotel or the airline, will in fact, secure you the same rate.

The investigation is looking into whether these messages mislead and therefore pressure customers into the wrong decision or into spending more than necessary.

Taggstar has been leading the industry since 2013, and we understand how important it is to deliver factually-correct, error-free messages. In fact, we’ve advised eTailers against using certain messages, which we know aren’t a responsible way to sell.

Best practice uses complex, purpose-built technology to mine, aggregate and display factual data within these social proof messages, so that consumers using travel and ticketing sites are 100% sure that the message reflects actual, consumer behaviour, and give them valuable information to support their decision. Using inaccurate information is not responsible sales practice.

As consumers have more product choice than ever before, and less time to shop, these social proof messages (messages containing aggregated data describing the behaviour of the crowd), are now used by many of the leading websites to help to improve the online shopping experience.

Best Practice

Best practice social proof messaging helps consumers make better buying decisions and retailers to sell the most suitable product.

Data sources must be factual and accurate, whether using audience data (live website visitors and order data), or third party review data from review aggregators. This shows a real-time, real-life picture of how other people are shopping, and is one of the most effective eCommerce strategies to increase consumer confidence. Our messages are based on real-time behaviour, so we can be even more specific.

Before any messages are delivered eCommerce sites must perform a data validation exercise to be sure that product messages are error-free. At Taggstar, we validate by collecting data such as page views, sales, revenue, number of items ordered, etc. and cross checking with the eTailer’s own analytics. Our data is accurate to within 5% of the eTailer’s data, so no website showing our messages can ever claim that a product is more popular than it is.

Language and tone of voice is also important. Phrases like ‘You’re Missing Out’ ‘Buy Now’, or ‘Hurry’ increase pressure on the customer to make a decision and can be construed as pressure selling. Compare this to an authentic social proof message like “125 sold in the last 24 hours.’. It’s factual, and gives consumers maximum information using a numerical count of sales within a certain timeframe. It’s an important difference.

Find out more

Our goal is to design and build Taggstar to help consumers make better buying decisions, and to help retailers to sell. We don’t present false information, or pressure customers by using words like ‘Hurry’. We tell the story about what is happening on an eCommerce website, so if a product is popular or lots of people are booking a particular hotel (to give a travel example), or stock is running low, we’ll show that as a factual message.

This helps customers to decide whether that product is right for them and whether they should buy - without pressure.  

For best practice advice about using social proof for eCommerce or for a Taggstar product demo, contact the team here.  

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