Shopify Cracking Down On Fake Scarcity?

Ben Shaffer
Jun 11, 2018 · 4 min read

Shopify store owners have recently received an email asking them to stop using certain settings within an app. And if they don’t, then the app will be deleted from their store.

The app is Beekeeting Sales Pop and you have probably seen it on a store that you have visited online. It’s that popup box that tells you that someone has recently made a purchase.

It’s main purpose is to increase social proof that other people are shopping on this store and that you should too.

You probably have found it annoying, but stats show that it works very well and stores that install it in general see an increase in conversions.

Due to Shopify cracking down on dishonest practices, it is not currently available on the app store. However, using Google archive, we can see that it is a very popular app with over 10,000 4 and 5 star reviews. That’s a pretty big deal for a Shopify app.

So, why the fuss?

As a reminder, the way that Sales Pop works is that it shows details of sales made recently and displays that to a prospective customer.

I’m not sure on the legalities of that concerning privacy, but there is another problem.

Sales Pop has a feature that allows you to be a bit ‘stealth’. You can create custom notifications where you can enter your own custom sales.

You can probably see where this is going…

What this means is that people can use this option to create fake sales and pretend that people have bought a product when they actually haven’t. And that’s a big deal…or fraud.

You may suggest that this is meant for sales you make in your brick and mortar store or sales that you made on another store.

But let’s be clear, the way that the option is set up it is unable to be used in an honest way unless just having one sale (which is highly unlikely).

You enter different products and different locations and then Sales Pop will randomly display combinations of these events.

So, if you enter for the products:

  • blue widget
  • red widget

and for the locations:

  • San Francisco, United States
  • Los Angeles, United States

there will be a possibility of 4 widgets being shown:

  • blue widget/San Francisco
  • blue widget/Los Angeles
  • red widget/San Francisco
  • red widget/Los Angeles

and obviously the same sale can’t come from two different places…

So, we know that it is possible to use the app to display false information, but who cares? Is that actually a problem.

I am no lawyer, but a quick search shows that according to the FTC, it is:

a representation, omission or practice is deceptive if it is likely to:

mislead consumers and

affect consumers’ behavior or decisions about the product or service.

The FTC quite clearly says that you can’t mislead consumers or affect their decision by giving them false information. Saying that a client bought from you is a problem if it is not true.

So how about morally?

I am certainly not clean in using sales tactics which may be on the edge when it comes to making sales online. However, let’s look at what is happening here:

Store A is saying that Customer A,B,C,D have purchased a product when they haven’t.

Customer E comes along and knowing that 4 previous customers have bought that product means that he is not alone in buying that product.

And he makes a decision to buy based on that.

In the offline world, we see it all of the time. You are far more likely to want to go to a restaurant if there are people eating there than if it is empty every time you pass there. One gives you confidence to make a buying decision and the other makes you have doubts if the food is good there…or even if the kitchens are dirty…or if other people know of a reason to avoid that restaurant.

That is probably not fake but does show how social proof can have an effect on your decisions.

Once again, no lawyer but can see why Shopify allowing and even profiting from illegal actions could also hold them culpable.

I would be surprised if in the next few months we don’t see a massive crackdown on Shopify against all apps that promote using false statements.

Credit card companies do it already.

Watch this space…or look at your own store and see if you are making untrue statements such as how many items are left or how many visitors are currently looking at a product or how long an item is on sale for.

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