Interviews, insight & analysis on Ecommerce

Retailers get sneaky in their attempts to encourage shoppers

PriceSpy, the impartial price and product comparison service, has shone a light on little-known tactics that retailers use to encourage people to spend. It comes as research from the Competition and Markets Authority reveals that almost a quarter (24%) of UK consumers say they’ve fallen victim to sneaky online sales tactics*.

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, UK country manager at PriceSpy, explains: “Retailers constantly run promotions and sales to encourage shoppers to spend with them. Sometimes these are great deals, but often these offers aren’t all that they seem.”

Five of the ‘sneaky’ sales tactics to be aware of include:

Rollercoaster pricing

Rollercoaster pricing is when a retailer gradually hikes a product’s price, before suddenly dropping the price and advertising a discount based on the highest previous price. For example, claiming a discount of 50% compared to the previous day’s price, but – if compared to the price 30 days ago – it may only be a 20% discount. Or, it may even be more expensive. Sometimes referred to as a ‘fake deal’, rollercoaster pricing is especially prominent around big shopping periods like Black Friday, the Cyber Weekend and Christmas.

Matinvesi-Bassett commented: “Awareness is the first step towards not falling for this tactic. If you have an item on your wishlist, check out its price history to see what its average price is and be mindful of sudden price increases.”

Yo-yo pricing

Yo-yo pricing refers to prices going up and down at regular intervals – sometimes, as frequently as every few days or weeks. Prices are lowered for a short period of time in order to boost sales, before they’re suddenly increased again. Retailers might brand these as ‘flash sales’ or ‘one day only’ offers.

“With yo-yo pricing, an attractively discounted price is rarely the last opportunity to bag a bargain. Chances are, you’ll see this same price again. Therefore, set up price alerts and be notified when a product drops in price to a level that you’re happy to pay,” said Matinvesi-Bassett.

Gender-based pricing

PriceSpy research has found countless instances of brands and retailers offering very different prices for ‘male’ and ‘female’ versions of essentially the same product. Especially common in beauty and clothing, men are typically charged more for outdoor gear whilst women face higher costs for beauty items.

Women’sMen’sPrice difference
Calvin Klein Eternity EDP 100ml£26.13Calvin Klein Eternity for Men EDP 100ml£35.39+35% (men)
Under Armour Rival Fleece Hoodie£24.97Under Armour Rival Fleece Hoodie£17.00+32% (women)
Hunter Original Tall Women’s£45.00Hunter Original Tall Men’s£54.76+22% (men)

Matinvesi-Bassett explained: “To help save money, given products are often so similar, despite how they’re marketed or branded, shoppers may benefit from being open-minded about buying products marketed to a different gender. Compare men’s, women’s and also unisex versions to see how different they really are, and then which is cheapest.”

Bundle pricing

This refers to an item being offered ‘for free’ when purchasing a certain product. ‘Bundling’ items together. Sometimes, retailers run promotions like this when they have surplus stock of the additional item or when they’re looking to boost sales of a certain product. Often, however, the price of the main product will have been hiked to account for the additional ‘freebie’ – meaning the additional item is not free at all.

Matinvesi-Bassett said: “Don’t get blindsided by seemingly attractive bundle pricing. Do you need, or even want, the additional product? If not, it’s not worth buying this bundle. Or if, in fact, you do want this additional product, then it may be a great deal for you.”

Pressure pricing

The use of phrases such as ‘only one remaining!’, ‘last chance!’, ‘get it before it’s gone!’, ‘this is in 10 people’s baskets right now!’ etc. Pressure pricing is common in both online retail and in physical shops where advertising banners will often alarm shoppers and coax them into buying at a certain time and price. Other tactics include countdown clocks which – often falsely – imply that a sale is about to expire.

Matinvesi-Bassett’s advice on navigating this tactic: “Firstly, don’t panic! Look at the availability of the item in other stores (you can do this on a product’s page on PriceSpy) to understand if there’s any real urgency to buy it now. Whilst one retailer may be low on stock, others may have plenty.”

Matinvesi-Bassett offers the following tips to help shoppers pick up bargains throughout the year, while avoiding falling for bad deals.

Firstly, plan when to make your purchases. Buying certain items out-of-season can deliver big savings. But, not every time! PriceSpy looked at how seasonality affects the price of certain items and produced a list of what to buy and what not to buy during every month of the year. 

Next, bide your time when buying newly-launched technology. When buying tech, in particular smartphones and TVs, some new products very quickly lose their value. For example, Samsung Galaxy smartphones drop in price by almost a fifth (-17%) just 10 weeks after they launch*. It’s also a common trend for older models to drop in price when a new model is launched.

Finally, don’t wait for big sales events to snap up a bargain. Sales events like Black Friday, and traditional sales periods like the Boxing Day sales and January sales, can’t be relied upon to get the best deals. For example, in 2021 over a fifth (22%) of products were more expensive on Black Friday compared to the start of November**. Despite this, Black Friday is still the cheapest day, on average, throughout the year.

PriceSpy has over 700,000 indexed products from over 6,000 shops. PriceSpy is part of Schibsted and is operational in: the UK, France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and New Zealand. The PriceSpy app is available to download for free via the App Store and Google Play.


**PriceSpy data


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