This blog post is part of Forrester’s holiday 2021 retail series.

This holiday season, there’ll be even more pressure for sites and apps to convert and for more customers to make bigger (and more frequent) purchases. Many retailers will have added subscription services and will have ramped up their direct-to-consumer practices, making it even more possible to directly influence customer and prospect behavior.

Like me and Christmas dinner, retailers will be tempted to take this ability to influence too far. What do I mean? When I eat Christmas dinner, I usually overdo it. The first plate is always great. Then, the second is a little less amazing. And by the time I eat two pieces of pie and ice cream, I’m regretting many of my decisions … at least around that meal.

Retailers: Of course it’s OK to influence people to choose your products. You should describe them in glowing terms. Take amazing photos. Include reviews and testimonials. Tell people what their lives will be like if they buy this thing. Recommend the best products for that individual based on what you know.

What you should avoid is veering from persuasion into coercive and deceptive design (formerly referred to as dark patterns). These include tactics like fake countdowns and misleading low-stock warnings for products as well as confusing opt-outs or aggressive product suggestions. Avoid nagging site visitors to sign up for a newsletter or subscription service even after they’ve dismissed the offer.

Why? What’s The Harm In A Gluttonous Embrace Of Persuasion?

Per one set of studies, aggressive use of coercive and deceptive design quadrupled conversion. The catch: Those same studies showed that study participants were significantly more likely to rate that they were upset, more likely to express anger at the tactics used, and more likely to abandon the study as a result.

If the goal is to build a relationship with customers and keep them coming back or subscribing to a service, short-term trickery will lead to repercussions. Using coercion and deception could lead to brand damage, higher support costs, unhappy employees (never good during the Great Resignation), bad press, and potentially even legal action.

Should you find your company overdoing persuasion and veering into coercion or deception, use a combination of these four responses:

  • Respond to pressure from authority by invoking your company’s principles.
  • Activate colleagues’ critical thinking through discussion when it seems like they’re just doing what competitors or other teams are doing.
  • Speak the language of risk by asking about potential publication of an article on a tactic if you think the focus is too narrowly focused on a business goal.
  • Overcome a lack of consideration for customers by humanizing the people affected with direct videos and other research.
  • Recognize that you won’t always win, but that you may be able to affect the next decision.

And remember: Be persuasive, enjoy a holiday dinner, but know when to stop. For more, you can read my report: Coercive And Deceptive Design: How To Prevent Decisions That Help Short-Term KPIs But Hurt Loyalty.