Personal Finance

How To Trick People Into Giving You Money

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 12 minute read

As the proprietor of an e-commerce site, I make use of various time-tested strategies for persuading customers to increase their purchases. This is what I do, and I know it works. Without them, e-commerce websites couldn’t function.

It’s up to you whether or not you give in to their schemes. Keep an eye out for these tactics while you purchase online for anything, whether it’s a real product or a service.

Tricks Online Retailers Use to Get You to Spend More Money

Knowing these methods employed by online stores to separate you from more money than you initially anticipated will help you spend less on products you don’t need.

Volume Savings

Offering a discount in exchange for a larger purchase is a tried and true sales strategy.
An easy example would be a discount of 10% on all orders over $100. Some online stores, typically those that cater to the shopper in the US, provide free shipping on all orders over $25.

Even you can attest to its efficacy. Each of us has strained our brains trying to think of something additional we could buy to get us over the minimum purchase and into the free delivery zone.

Knowing isn’t even half the struggle here. Even though we know it’s causing us to overspend, we still do it.


To upsell is to encourage the purchase of a more expensive version of a product that the customer has already indicated they want to buy.

If you ask for a $25 bottle of wine at a restaurant and are directed toward a $50 bottle instead, that waitress is upselling.

This takes on more subtle forms while making purchases online. When a customer is looking at inexpensive coffee makers on an online store’s website, for instance, more expensive models will appear in the sidebar or elsewhere on the page. Before showing you their higher-margin products, they inform you that previous customers bought them or that they are more popular.

There are occasions when people get downright hostile, claiming that other products received more positive feedback. Even more so than on regular product pages. They also feature prominently in internal search results, typically being marked as suggested or highlighted. Alternatively, they may prioritize the most costly items in the search results.

Funnel Stacking

The most cutting-edge method of upselling entails gradually expanding the customer’s range of possible purchases. You may, for instance, participate in a webinar at no cost to yourself. The webinar ends with a hard sell for a $99 online course. You do, and although you love it, it lacks some of the specificity you’d want.

In the meantime, they start pressuring you to pay $999 for their premium course, which has four times as much material and many more bonuses and add-ons. They’ll even let you put your initial $99 down as credit toward the final price.

For an additional $900, you enroll in the course’s premium version. What’s a penny lost can’t be recovered, right? And while this course provides additional information, it may still not answer all of your queries.

The designer of the course begins sending you emails offering private coaching sessions. You’ll have to shell out $250 each hour, and there’s a minimum of six sessions required.

Maybe they approach you from a different angle. They provide a turnkey solution, meaning they do everything necessary to get you up and running with your target behavior. Even though it costs $9,999, they promise to deliver and will handle everything on your behalf. 

You convince yourself that getting started sooner would help you save money in the long term. Little did you know when you attended that free webinar, you’d soon pay that company $10,000 or more.


It also works in reverse.

If you turn down a seller’s initial offer, they may make a lower-priced one. When you inquire about the pricing of a bottle of wine, for instance, the bartender may suggest a similar-but-cheaper choice when they notice your jaw dropping. They aim low because they fear losing even a little of your business.

Downselling is common practice in the digital realm, typically manifesting as reminder emails or messages concerning abandoned shopping carts. To get you to come back and finish the transaction, they may tempt you with a discount or suggest a more affordable choice.

Alternatively, when you go to leave a website, some of them will utilize exit intent monitors to show you a promotional message. Your mouse pointer moves toward the return button or the close tab button, and all of a sudden a huge, flashy display ad appears, promising you a discount or a more cost-effective option that you couldn’t find anywhere else on their site. The seller would prefer a reduced sale than no sale at all.


Instead of trying to offer you more of what you just bought (upselling), cross-selling aims to get you to buy related items. Keep an eye out for these forms of cross-selling while you explore the web.

Bundling of products

Online stores will often provide discounts when you buy multiples of the same item from them. If you’re looking to buy a coffee machine and a coffee bean grinder together, for instance, you may do it in a single transaction.

They won’t even sell you one without the other in the worst circumstances. When purchased together, you may usually save a few dollars, say $5. Some of the bundles are promoted with far greater intensity than the individual goods. Banners proclaiming “Best Deal” or “Bundle and Save” or putting them front and center in internal website searches are two examples of this strategy.

The Squeeze at the Checkout

At checkout, you may be subjected to a barrage of cross-sells from several online retailers, many of which are quite manipulative and aggressive.

Some of the worst offenders in this regard are airlines and online travel agencies. When you pick your flight and go to check out on an airline’s website, for instance, you could be presented with a number of optional, but possibly costly, extras, such as:

  • Is flight cancellation and/or rescheduling insurance something you’d be interested in purchasing?
  • Is it okay if I let you pick your seat?
  • Would you like to use the checked baggage service? Could I have a second bag, please?
  • Is fully-automated, web-based flight check-in something you’re interested in?
  • Need early boarding?
  • Do you really not want first-class treatment? Is there a premium economy or business class option?

This final one is an upsell as well. However, everything else is merely an optional extra that will cost you additional money. The process for reserving a rental automobile is the same. They try to get you to spend more money on things like insurance, a GPS, overage fees, and prepaid petrol.

Post-Purchase Cross-Selling

The pressure to spend more money doesn’t stop after you make a purchase. Some organizations may try to upsell you even more on the confirmation page.

It’s not too late to add to your order, for instance, and then they show you these complementary products. Confirmation emails from astute marketers often feature upsells and add-ons. You open it up and notice a note that reads, “Add these within 24 hours and we’ll include them in your shipment.”

Scarcity and fabricated urgency

Having the knowledge that you can buy something at any moment removes the urgency associated with making the purchase right now.

To hasten your decision, marketers create an illusion of scarcity.

In the case of hotel booking apps, for instance, you may see how many rooms are still available on the dates you’ve selected. When you look for flight prices, airlines will show you available seats of the same type. At this price, there are just four tickets left.

Notifications that numerous persons have seen the same flight within the past 24 hours may also be shown or sent through email. The strategy blends the power of urgency with the well-known social proof strategy used in retail.

Also, they could make things scarce when there aren’t any. This is accomplished occasionally through the use of time-tested techniques like flash discounts and limited-time deals. These days, a more modern strategy is to offer a product for sale for a short period of time (often a few days) before taking it off the market again. Alternatively, they may provide bonuses and freebies, but only for a brief period of time.

Websites commonly use countdown clocks to stress the time crunch. As the image is continually shifting, an urgent sensation of imminence arises.

Sometimes the “sale price” is the actual price, whereas the usual price is simply exaggerated to serve as a misleading benchmark for comparison when no discounts are in effect. In preparation for Black Friday, some stores may temporarily boost prices in order to provide a more enticing “savings.” Similar strategies are effective in the run-up to a buy-one-get-one-free promotion. After the sale, shops have the option of returning the price to its previous level.

Social Proof

The term “social proof” originates from the field of psychology, and it describes how others’ approval of a certain person, location, or item may sway a person’s own opinion. When we observe that a lot of people are going to a newly opened restaurant, we tend to prefer it over the boring one across the street.

Social proof strategies, such as testimonials, have been employed by websites since they first appeared online. With the explosion in popularity of social media, businesses soon followed suit, boasting about the amount of followers, likes, and shares they had amassed—even if they had to resort to buying some of them.

Recently, businesses have begun implementing alerts in the corner of the screen that read “Dawn from Denver just invested in our course” beside a little photo of Dawn. A second set of eyes and names appears not long afterward, implying that they, too, have purchased it.

These seldom represent actual customers or items sold. They have a collection of names and pictures programmed into a timed loop. This is merely another deceptive tactic used to get you to buy by making it appear like a large number of other people are purchasing the same item.

Push Notifications

Web-based companies are aware that few customers really read their promotional emails. Thus, they are on the lookout for more channels of communication while simultaneously attempting to get your email address for their mailing list.

Inquiring as to whether or not you wish to get browser alerts is one method. If you allow them to, they can send you push alerts at any moment. Even as you navigate to different websites, you will continue to receive these notifications on your browser. Marketers employ them to alert you to a promotion or discount, as well as to introduce you to new items or content.

In order to send you these messages in your browser or on your mobile device, they don’t require any personal information from you beyond your acceptance of them.

These notifications are more successful than emails since they pop up immediately, rather than requiring the user to click through a series of links. Marketers have more leeway since these communications can use rich media.

As a result, it’s recommended that you ignore websites’ attempts to send you push notifications.

The Freemium Business Model

Free stuff is universally desired and expected. It’s frustrating for a business owner like myself. To attract customers, several companies provide a free trial. They may then upsell those users to a paid version and profit from them.

One typical example are phone games. There is no cost to download or play, but there may be delays, restrictions, or other annoyances until you pay. Unless you pay a subscription fee, you may see a lot of advertising in your favorite games (and applications). Some games have you wait up to 12 hours while your character builds a structure or advances in level. With a little price, you may skip those holdups.

Many of the resources used to run my software company are provided at no cost to customers. That way, customers will start to use the product, and we can later pitch them on upgrading to premium. In one instance, we provide a free and a paid version of a substantial legal document.

The freemium model, like the vast majority of the other strategies, is not intrinsically immoral. It is just a contemporary illustration of a loss-leader advertising strategy. The business suffers a loss on the initial sale in order to attract customers, who are subsequently upsold and cross-sold to in order to turn a profit.

A massive television sale is an offline example of a loss-leader. The TV is marked down to entice you to buy other, more profitable items, such as a mounting kit, Blu-ray player, Apple TV, and connection cables, from the store. The free tier of a freemium model is analogous to the television, while the premium tier’s extra features are analogous to the extras.
9. Exclusively for Members or Cardholders

Promotions that are exclusive to shop members or credit card holders are one method that stores try to get you to spend more money. It’s a tried-and-true strategy for retailers of all stripes, from mom-and-pop shops to malls to online marketplaces.

That encourages a new customer base to sign up for membership or apply for a shop credit card. They get to add you to their database for use in future advertising efforts. In addition, customers are motivated to maximize the value of their membership or loyalty card and spend more money with the business that offers them this opportunity. It’s hardly revolutionary, but it does seem to work.

Pricing Tactics Based on Psychology

In the retail industry, theoretical knowledge of psychology is occasionally put to use.
An item with an extremely high price tag is shown as an “anchor price,” or “starter price,” to draw your attention. To someone who hadn’t planned on paying that much, every subsequent price seems reasonable by comparison.

Similar results can be achieved with the “Goldilocks pricing” technique. Here, the shopkeeper presents a choice between three equivalent offerings. One is absurdly overpriced, while the other is dirt cheap but obviously low-quality. The product in the center is the one they really want to sell you since it seems fair when put next to the other two. 

However, the product is typically more expensive than its competitors, many of which are viable alternatives that come in at lower rates.

This is one of Amazon’s many advantages. Due to the sheer size of their marketplace, you can easily compare dozens of identical products in a short amount of time. By doing so, we are able to avoid some of these price gouging practices.

Individualized Marketing

Tech behemoths like Amazon and Google know too much about you. Further, they may zero in on you specifically by using precision marketing. In addition, it is not necessary to do a targeted web search for the item in question.

I had no idea how broad (and intrusive) that data collecting was until last Christmas. I asked my wife for a Mark Andrews shirt when we were alone in the living room. Not once did I go so far as to enter it into Google or otherwise signal that I was ready to buy. But all of a sudden, while I was online on my phone or computer, advertisements sprang up offering Mark Andrews jerseys.

Exactly how Big Brother found out about my plans for an Andrews jersey was a mystery to me. There were only two possible sources: my Android phone or the Amazon Echo Dot in my living room. A member of that group noticed my remark in passing and filed it away as a piece of advertising intelligence.

The age of discretion has ended. When it comes to big tech, there is no such thing as a “off” switch.

Easy Enrollment, Difficult Cancellation

When it comes to signing up for a subscription service, everything must be as simple as possible. This is sound economics.

However, many services make it extremely difficult to cancel. Often, you won’t be able to cancel your service until you call the company, endure the interminable phone tree, and finally speak to a real person who will try to persuade you out of canceling. As a result of your persistence, you may receive special pricing, freebies, or other perks. They will cancel your membership only if you beg them very, very nicely.

One of the more deceptive and dishonest methods on this list is making it easy to buy, but then making it a Herculean effort to opt out of future transactions.

Bottom Line

The battle between marketers and customers will never end. However, consumers are becoming more savvy as marketers come up with increasingly sophisticated strategies to part them from their cash.

Back a decade or two, when a bright pop-up ad would appear in the middle of an article, you’d probably give in and take a quick glance. I imagine you slammed it shut without so much as a second glance.

When doing your internet shopping, just be mindful of the techniques they utilize. Take a breather and wait 24 hours before making any transactions above $24 on your credit card. If you truly need or desire something, you will return to get it. If not, though, you’ll probably just shrug and say, “Never mind.”

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