Always Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth


    by Stuart Fuller (CentralNic)

    The eleventh day of November marked the start of a seven-week period of the most intense internet activity of the year. Chinese Singles Day has quickly become the biggest single global e-commerce event, surpassing records on an almost hourly basis. The original concept of having one day where those people living in China not in a relationship rewarded themselves by buying a present has long since passed and now it is seen by brick and mortar as well as click and order retailers in every business segment as an opportunity to drive their revenues up with deep discounts and promotional offers.

    In 2017 shoppers spent more than $25 billion in just 24 hours, smashing all records of the previous year – in fact the 2016 total was surpassed in just thirteen hours, with the $1bn sales mark being broken by 00:02 on the 11th November. The day has long since surpassed the combined revenue totals of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the two biggest shopping days in the US, with revenues now being four times as big.

    Whilst the event was originally developed by Alibaba, virtually every retailer in China now takes part in the day. This year only 40% of sales went through the Alibaba (‘just’ $10bn then!) but they certainly put on a show to underline their ownership of the day, with a star-studded gala arranged by them in Shanghai with the likes of David Beckham, Daniel Craig and Kobe Bryant appearing on stage.

    The benefit to consumers of the growing investment in these shopping days is that retailers are falling over themselves to grab a piece of the action before the traditional financial year ends. In our recession-fuelled quest for a bargain, our spending habits have changed beyond recognition in recent years. Today’s shopping experience to many of us now takes place on trains, buses, pubs and restaurants thanks to increases in the speed and bandwidth of our mobile and fixed-line connections, smartphones and the development of mobile apps that allow us to compare prices and have items delivered within hours at prices lower than we could find on the High Street.

    Unfortunately, that desire to find the best bargains can easily take us into the dark corners on the Internet, especially at this time of the year when offers of bargains fill our inboxes. This dark or counterfeit economy is estimated to be worth $17.5bn with one in six products sold online believed to be fake.

    So how can we all stay safe whilst still finding the best deals online at this time of the year? There’s four rules that we should all learn and share that will go a long way to ensure we are grabbing a bargain rather than funding the criminals.

    Don’t socialise too much

    Cyber criminals use exactly the same methods as genuine organisations to drive traffic to their websites and to buy their products, assuming the products actually exist in the first place. Social Media is often the easiest medium for the cyber criminals to fish in as networks do not discriminate when someone wants to initially set up sponsored advertising campaigns, and that followers or likes can be easily bought to give the impression of credibility. Whilst ads or posts for bargains may appear on your timeline, look carefully at the wording of adverts. Many that are placed by those maleficent individuals will have spelling mistakes or poor grammar – for instance adverts for bargain Moncler products on Instagram in the past few days have contained such errors as referring to the brand as Moncle, Moncleur and Monclerr. Global brands do not make spelling mistakes like this in their advertising. Also, be conscious of following shortened URLs, especially on social media as you have no idea where you could end up by clicking on the link!

    Trust has to be earnt not bought

    Social Media expert Erik Qualman estimates that 90% of all buying decisions are influenced by peer reviews. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to simply buy a footprint in a matter of minutes. For less than $100 anyone can buy 5,000 Twitter and Instagram followers, 500 retweets, 5,000 Facebook likes and 50 Facebook comments. Their return on investment in some cases is just one sale. Likewise, fake positive (and by that means negative) reviews can also be bought online – one for TripAdvisor can be bought for just $20.

    It’s in your domain – Cybercriminals often use domain names that look like they belong to a famous brand, for example registering MoncIer (the ‘l” actually being a capitalised ‘i’) or Monc1er in advertising or use some of the new gTLDs which haven’t yet been registered by the brands, such as a dotBlackFriday. In most instances, domain names that are used by cybercriminals are registered within a couple of days of the launch of their “campaigns”. Use a website such as to check a domain name that you suspect could be being used for a cybercrime.

    Shop safe

    Any reputable online retailer will use the SSL protocol on their log-in and payment pages to ensure that any personal and financial information transmitted across the internet is encrypted and away from snooping eyes. You can easily tell if a website uses SSL by either the presence of a padlock in the browser bar (as found in Safari on all Apple devices) or the text in the browser turning green. You can also click on the padlock to check the SSL details. Google has started to show warnings now to users when they attempt to navigate to websites that have no SSL but have an E-Commerce capability. Also, some websites use pictures of SSL verification/authentication to give the impression they are secure.

    Whilst many brands will look to discount deeply, many high-end or luxury brands do not “do” sales. In addition, they do not register domain names featuring the words “cheap”, “discount”, “outlet” or “sale”. If you see a product being sold for significant discount, look at other websites and check how much they are selling the item for. Most genuine sale items will be sold within a small cluster of discounted pricing – anything significantly outside that cluster should set alarm bells ringing.

    And if Black Friday and Cyber Monday don’t appeal to you, just wait a few weeks for Green Monday. Few outside of the US will have heard of this day but it is the third biggest shopping day of the US calendar, taking place on the second Monday in December. Originally named by eBay back in 2009 as the day where they experience the highest level of sales, last year shoppers spent over $1.6 billion.

    Whilst many of us will grab some genuine bargains in the next few weeks, just remember the old saying before you hand over your personal and financial details online to a potentially unknown third party….If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Happy shopping!