The Sordid World of Post-Purchase Marketing

By  |  Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Earlier today I was squawking about the sales tactics of PeopleFinder’s Stud or Dud? iPhone app: Once it has your credit-card info, it attempts to use a discount to convince you to sign up for various services that cost $24.95 a month, a price that’s mentioned only in fine print. As I did my grumbling, I didn’t realize that the U.S. Senate had been conducting a hearing on tactics of this sort, which are widely used by some of the largest e-commerce companies in America. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch has a good summary, and embedded this news report:

One of the companies that’s made millions off these shenanigans is Orbitz. Last March, I blogged about the related indignity that company puts its customers through: tacking travel insurance and limo rides onto their airfare purchases and forcing them to opt out (if they notice the charges) rather than opt in.

If you read every single word on every page during a sales transaction with companies that do this, you might avoid any unexpected charges. But dealing with this stuff makes an online sales transaction feel like it’s pockmarked with land mines that might go off at any moment. And it leaves me feeling like the e-tailers in question–some of who otherwise have extremely respectable sites–think their customers are patsies.

Isn’t a company’s reputation worth more than any few million dollars? Wouldn’t it be nice if corporate America quietly decided that treating consumers this way wasn’t worth it before the Feds force them to cut it out?


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6 Comments For This Post

  1. Steve Says:

    Another baddie: United Airlines. When you check in online, they try to use the card info they’re already holding to sell you add-on stuff like better seats and advanced boarding. Worse still, they even do it when you check in on one of their kiosks and you’re presumably in a hurry. And, still worse, they consistently do it with pre-checked boxes that opt you in for the stuff unless you happen to notice and uncheck the box. Even worse? Some of their deals are close to worthless, like fees to get “advanced boarding” for a commuter flight when you’re already holding an upgraded seat that moves you near the front of the line anyway.

    This kind of crap should be illegal. The worst offender used to be Real Networks, which hid pre-checked boxes for its spam beneath a window border you had to scroll down past in order to see them, but at least the spam wouldn’t cost you anything but your time.

    Where’s the FTC when we need them? These are deceptive trade practices, pure and simple.

  2. K James Says:

    oving comprises of various steps. Primary among them is getting moving boxes for packaging, storing and transporting the household articles.

  3. JDoors Says:

    Words and phrases to look out for; offer, trial, just for trying (seen in the Fandango offer), joining, etc.

    Words to ignore; Free, Gift, Thank You, Reward, etc.

    And what’s up with people “not noticing” monthly charges on their credit card bills for over a year?

    Yes, that kind of marketing is as sleazy as it gets, but is sleazy marketing something new? Are unexpected credit card charges new?

  4. Bryce Lane Says:

    Mr. McCracken,

    There are no doubt strong opinions about products and services and merchandising tactics used by companies online and offline.
    On the Internet, one of areas with the most attention is the “sweepstakes” arena. For example, a consumer sees a banner that states “Finish this survey for a good chance to win $1,000.” Once the consumer clicks the ad they are given a survey to capture information about a certain product category. This information is used to re-market to the consumer and the website displaying the advertisement is paid a fee to do so. Advertisements on your website display such offers. You can access by clicking the following link: By review of your website it appears you are using a third-party tool that serves these advertisements. Is the money made by these ads unethical or in some way harming consumers? Some people say yes, some people say no.

    PeopleFinders is solely focused on providing products and services that our customers desire. Some of the products we build, others are third-party products in areas where we do not have a product ourselves. The general categories of safety/security and savings are in high demand and we have partnerships with a few companies that help us deliver these products and services to our customers. We are constantly experimenting with a variety of merchandising approaches; nothing is static online. Important to note is that we take our product and merchandising guidance from our customers. PeopleFinders does not push the envelope as far as merchandising tactics are concerned. There are no doubt other sites that both market and merchandise these same products and services in ways that we believe are highly deceptive. Some of these companies have legal track records that make it clear to anyone closely observing their operations that they are not focused on the consumer and play by different rules. PeopleFinders has a good track record and reputation.

    While we may disagree on the value/quality of certain products and services, appropriateness of marketing and merchandising tactics I’m hoping we can agree that the Internet is in its infancy and that many exciting things will continue to happen online over the coming years. Further, standards will evolve over time and instead of a small number of people (top down approach) designing how the Internet should evolve we believe in a bottom up approach where consumers are given the choice of who to conduct business with and whom to take advice from. People vote with their visits and dollars and they are not easy to fool and thus we should not treat them as fools.

    Feel free to call or email, I respect your opinion and would enjoy discussing the above with you anytime.

    Thank you in advance for your consideration.



  5. Steven Roddy Says:

    Those kinds of actions might make you some extra profit but you lose customer loyalty which will cost you in the long run

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