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Buying something personal online? BEWARE!

The title may sound as if I am averse to buying online but that’s not the case. On the contrary, I love shopping online for all the convenience and out-of-the-blue discounts it has to offer. What I am scared of, is shopping for something personal! And with e-commerce sites selling everything from inner wears to condoms to pregnancy test kits, the list can be endless.

And so it happened! I logged on to one of the e-commerce sites to shop for something personal (I leave it up to you to fill in the blanks!) and that too from my office laptop. Due to some unavoidable reasons, I had to abandon my cart. Yes, that was the crime I committed, at least they made me feel so.

And it started haunting me. First there was a mail from them saying I have an abandoned cart, as if I didn’t know about it. Then irrespective of which site I visited, their ads kept on following me. To add to my discomfort, the ad had the same product image on display. Behavioral retargeting, they might call it but it was no more than a reminder of my so-called crime.

It was like my conscience pinching me every time I went online. “You tried to shop using your office laptop? And that too you did not complete your transaction? Now bear the consequences!”

To purge myself of the sin, I decided to go back and complete my transaction and trust me, I did. And I thought this was my holy dip in the Ganges and my sin is now washed away.

The next day I had to give a presentation to my boss and I happily went with my laptop. During the course of discussion, I had to show him some other websites for reference. And there it pops up again- the same ad with the same product image on display, bigger and bolder than before. Maybe the bigger size of the ad was only my own perception; I was so scared of it by now. Both of us tried to ignore it…that feeling when you see something yet pretend you did not.

I goofed up my presentation and finally cleared my cookies.

P.S:  I am not against such ads. I am just against the faux pas moments they sometimes create.

Do you have any such e-commerce faux pas moment?

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely my own and do not in any way represent the views of the organization I work for.

 

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24 Comments

  1. dreadful!!!. 

    would be it ok to share the site name so that we dont end up on it even by mistake.

     

  2. Nice post Shilpi! I cannot agree with you more on how annoying it would have been.

    The issue as I see may not be with Online Shopping, but the lack of proper Laws Regulating Online Advertising in India. In the United States for ex, you can Opt out of most Major Ad Networks through a feature called “Adchoices”.

    The Federal Trade Commission overlooks Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) & have proposed several regulations. More recently US Senators John Kerry and John McCain introduced a bill that has asked the Federal Trade Commission with developing Rules specifically targeted at OBA, requiring companies to offer consumers a clear and robust opt-out mechanism.

    Europe has much stricter laws. Check out this article 

    http://privacylaw.proskauer.com/2009/04/articles/european-union/oh-behave-eu-cracks-down-on-behavioral-targeting-in-the-uk/

    In India we need strict privacy laws. I am glad you brought this up in this forum. Hopefully there will be more awareness created.

  3. 🙂 Sorry Sanchita, but I would not like to share the name online. Maybe sometime when we meet offline will do so. 

  4. Thanks Aneja for the insight ! Really appreciate it.

  5. Nice Post Shilpi…  Remarketing is a fairly new method of advertising and has proven pretty effective in conversions and ROI.  This happens quite often to me where if I am looking to make a reservation at a hotel, all of a sudden every site that has ‘fetchback ads’ in place will display the hotel as an ad.  Have noticed the ads even show up in YouTube videos now…  By displaying relevant ads, its a great way for the advertiser to stay engaged with their visitors long after they have left their site.  Deleting your cookies should handle this issue.   Don’t take it personal.  It happens to the best of us 🙂

  6. anytime!

  7. Thanks Indy. 

    I have faced the same issue while checking for airline tickets….if nothing else, at least they keep reminding u that u still have to book your tickets 🙂 Perhaps one of the many things online that are a necessary evil 🙂

  8. If you don’t want anybody (or even you) to see what your browsing history? simply use incognito mode in Chrome or Private Browsing in Firefox

    http://support.google.com/chrome/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=95464

  9. I never had this problem on any of my laptops. The fact is if u keep them clean, whatever u browse, it wont hurt you. I have essential tools to manage my browsers.
    Try using “Do Not Track Me Plus” extensions on chrome and firefox to avoid these incidents.
    For example, The tool itself displays how many sites are tracking me when i visit any other site. Like I got message saying 7 sites tracking me through Rodinhoods.com.
    No this I call the smartness in taking care of our internet mischiefs or dumb lucks.
    also in Fire fox u can enable Do not track as a built in application on browser settigns.
    since u use the browser every minute of the day, its not an excuse to no learn how to control them.

  10. Hi Shilpi, Very nice and insightful post in deed. Three things to be looked at. #1. Re-marketing. #2. The reminder of the abandoned cart by the shopping website. #3 Browsing personal products from office.

    Regarding #1, the shopping site is not bae blamed at since it is being completely taken by the search engines ( assuming you would have reached the site through) and ad networks. As said by others, clearing cookies could have solved the problem at large.

    #2. If it is a site that sells all sort of products including those personal products, those sites should take proper measures to ensure that the users are not reminded of abandoned cart for these kind of products. If it is a complete private shopping site and if it had reminded you as such, it is a major blunder. Currently , we, at shycart.com , being a complete personal shopping website , ensure with high priority not to send across any emails as such. Besides, either in the subject line, or even the “From” name will not reflect “Shycart” anywhere. So, even when you receive an email while you are in meeting with your boss, the email alert pops up, there will not be any embarrassments. 

    #3. When you attempt to open the site for the first time, it will alert you stating to be careful if you are in any official premises. We decrease the opacity of the products so that the product gets displayed only when you hover over the products. 

    More inputs and suggestions on personal shopping are highly welcome.

    – Shycart.com

  11. I suggest you don’t use the single signon things they ask you to…ljke using Facebook and google, etc. Just think what wud happen if they someday post the same to your Facebook wall! 😀

    Avoid these and yes s pointed by someone, incognito mode is great. 🙂

  12.  

    Sanchita,

    It would happen with most ecommerce sites these days. Most of them are using some kind of retargeting solution (most common being vijury).

  13. Good post Shipli, it reminded me of some recent days when even after my marriage, i was receiving  recommendations of ‘Best Match ‘ from Matrimony sites to which had registered (ofcourse pre-marriage!) and you can imagine the consequence when my wife looked at those ads/ emails 🙂 

  14. Shilpi, Sanchita, this is true of all sites… any site you purchase a service/product from then begins to stalk you sometimes stupidly…. eg I got the same treatment from an explainer video site that we had a video made from… it began stalking me and this was completely wrong targeting in my opinion as a video service is not something you would need to repeat immediately… would make sense to stalk me after 3-6 months.So they wasted money and I felt persecuted…. 🙂 But in any case as a rule would advise people not to conduct any personal shopping for even the most innocuous items from office or their office laptop…. just doesn’t make sense from a privacy perspective….. as you all are aware, everything is and can be monitored these days.

  15. 🙂

  16. hahahahha…..hope u have cleared your cookies by now 😉

    BTW my name is SHILPI…not SHIPLI 😉

  17. Hi,

    You could also probably use software like this :

    http://www.sandboxie.com/

    It creates a space for itself and isolates the rest of your hard disk from your/anyone else’s shenanigans. You can delete the contents of the sandbox periodically and keep your system pristine.

    Thomas

  18. hey shilpi,

    just realised i never shared alok’s post on retargeting here!

    http://therodinhoods.com/forum/topics/look-mama-they-are-re-targeting-me

    Yeah!!! Got a half page in the holy Brand Equity of the Economic Times today!! 
    Full produced article after the image…

    So, let’s assume that you know a man, with a…errr… problem. You know the kind of problem I’m talking about. The one that happens in the bedroom; the one we all read about and say, “Thank God this hasn’t happened to me!” It’s the problem that men develop when they have bad jobs, bad bosses, bad cars and bad everything. It’s a bad problem that needs a Blue Pill.

    But so what? God never made everyone equal and was quite unjust in distributing problems too. But man created the Internet which is equal for all of us! Well, at least for the most of us.

    So, Mr. Problem confides in you. And in all earnestness, you ask him to “google around” to check out pharmacists and drug suppliers that can supply him the little Blue Pill – discreetly, couriered to his home, in innocuous brown packages and billed as “car repairs” (or cable repairs?!) on his credit card bill. (Obviously this is not the Cash on Delivery kind of delivery you would suggest).

    Mr. Problem takes your advice and ‘browses’ around one lazy weekend, looking for Blue Pill options. He doesn’t make any purchases, but at least gets the process going.

    Then the mad week begins. And that’s just when Mr. Problem begins to start calling you in absolute panic. Trembling over the phone he says, “Boss, I’m so embarrassed. On Monday, I was making a presentation to all the business heads and when I went up to a live website to showcase what our competition was doing, right on top, staring at me, in front of twelve people was this big broad ad selling me the Blue Pill. People began staring at me, instead of the projector screen. That idiot in sales even chuckled!”

    The rambling continues… “At home, my wife ordered me to cook Palak Paneer and when I requested her to look up the recipe for me on my laptop, the Blue Pill ad popped right up at her. She just stared at me and asked, “Shall I print the recipe with the ad on it too?”

    By the end of the week he almost sobs and says, “Bhai, I’m scared to go to the web now. What happens if the Blue Pill comes wherever I go? How on earth do I get rid of this menace?”

    You console him and tell him that you will get back with some solutions – but in the bottom of your heart you know that your friend is a victim of the all pervasive, invasive and untiring method of Internet advertising best known as ‘retargeting’.

    For those who were born before the 90s, let me explain what retargeting is. It’s a web technology of placing cookies (not the ones that your ex-girlfriend’s mom made) on websites that consumers visit to buy things but then fail to complete the purchase. This usually happens at the checkout page, payment gateway options area etc., where the consumer ‘abandons’ the purchase mid-way despite having the intent to buy.

    Now, unlike traditional shopping where you are free to browse around as many stores as you want and then walk out as a free bird, the Internet behaves differently. Once you ‘want’ to buy something, you are marked ‘WANTED’!

    Let’s forget your friend for a moment. Think of the Blue Pill Company. It’s a Big Fortune 500 Company! Why would someone of that stature pursue your friend like Inspector Pradyuman and his band of cronies (from the famous television show ‘CID’)…?

    It’s a matter of ‘Dhandha’ baba! Hard-hitting statistics reveal:

    – Out of the 100 people who visit a web store to buy things, only 2% actually buy something. 98% leave empty handed

    – When ‘retargeted’ ads are shown to consumers, 26% return to the original website they had abandoned vs. 8% who would return via normal ads. That’s a three times more!

    Seems fair and square? If you visit me, show intent to buy and then leave unannounced; then I have the right (or opportunity) to digitally stalk you..?

    Amongst Marwaris, there is a phrase called ‘mota-moti’ (which means “the crux of”). So this is my mota-moti view of Retargeting:

    – Respect your visitors. Stalking them endlessly will make them abhor you. My wife just complained to me that a Rohit Bal outfit she checked out on some e-com store chased her all over the web! She doesn’t like Rohit Bal now !

    – Warren Buffet famously said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” I think, he would definitely include ‘retargeting’ in the “doing things differently” agenda!

    – Don’t do something because the technology exists. Do it only if it is natural, normal and creates joy for your consumer; not because it feeds the false ego of your marketing manager. 

    – Serendipity is a wonderful thing! Ask any shop keeper about ‘surprise’ customers who walk in and make heavy purchases, just by chance. So, advertise with a wish, not a curse!

    Now, if you haven’t realized it by now, I have placed a retargeting cookie in your eyes just because you have read my article. That means every time I write again, you will be chased and hounded!

    Haha! Just kidding!!

     

  19. Hi Shilpi,

    I have faced the same problem few months back, so I found a solution of it. Actually it is a Privacy browser named “EPIC” developed by Indians. I am using it for quite a period and its really awesome, It never stores any history, cookie or junk stuff that compromises your privacy online, Its super awesome, you should try it once. 🙂

    Regards

  20. Hi Shilpi,

    I suggest you download and use AdBlock Browser Extension on Firefox and Chrome, That will disable ads from showing up on any site and provide you a clean browsing experience.

  21. Its a pain to be followed by the travel and e-commerce sites everywhere, even post buying. One of the solutions that has been pointed out earlier (and is worth re-iterating) is to use the Incognito mode. More on this here  – 

    https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/95464?hl=en

    There are more benefits apart from privacy – The cookies stored by travel sites are pretty smart. Depending on your search patterns (frequency, time date etc), it influences the price of the ticket too. Yes, you read it correct !! I discovered this last time while searching options for my US return friend. He advised me strictly to do flight searches in private browsing (or incognito mode). This way the disabled cookie will not invade privacy and not influence the ticket rates. 

    It would be great if someone with experience from the travel industry can corroborate this? But as a rule, I never do online shopping in normal mode.

  22. I think one step is to install adblock plugin on your browser. It prevents the display of most annoying ads 🙂  Privacy breach is another problem, but as @Aneja Raj pointed out, it might take some regulatory measures.

  23. I was also fed up with all kinds of ads specially youtube ads and the one which you are suffering from. I suggest you to use “AdBlock Plus” extension on your internet browser (Crome/Firefox) and you can get rid of all kinds of ads.

  24. Hi 

    Shilpi, I see this happening. Re-marketing had been so bold and loud that at times it is very disturbing. Just because I visited the website doesn’t really mean I want to buy the product, there could be other reason why I visited the website.

    Like recently I bought an HTC Desire 616 and wanted to give a negative feedback and what I saw re-marketing ads one after another. What the shift it is? Not everyone is your customer. It gives me a feeling like a guys standing on road and shouting on top of his voice Chai Leo Chai Leo, Garam Garma Chai Leo..

    HaHa…

    We too are maintaining an ecommerce store for our clients like http://www.printawallpaper.com and http://www.theboxerstore.co.in but we are against re-marketing.  I strongly believe that if a customer is interested he would definitely come and buy our products.

    Sanchita.. today most ecommerce are doing re-marketing.. your list would become endless… !!!

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