Online Scams Plague Ecommerce

Online Scams Plague Ecommerce
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The holiday season is upon us but the joy of online shopping is tempered by the 52% surge in online scams this year. Even worse, when you’re cruising the latest fashions you just might get an ad telling you to “print a recipe”. Wait. There’s a recipe for clothing? Now, this might make sense if looking at recipes, making a grocery list, or reading the reviews on kitchenware—but not clothing, so what gives? [Figure 1].

Printrecipe scam

Figure 1: Example of “print recipe” ad propagating throughout the digital advertising ecosystem

Not only is this ad out of context to the page, but also further investigation reveals that this is a scam that offers consumers a “convenient” (if not unwanted) tool in exchange for valuable consumer personal information. These scams are propagated via online ads.

Ads as a Strategic Revenue Channel

Ads are increasingly playing a very significant role in retail revenue strategies. The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be a watershed event for online commerce, projected to grow at least 20% to hit $1.09T in 2021. The result is more online consumers which means more eyeballs, and more eyeballs attract advertising dollars.

Retailers are taking advantage of this growth in two ways. First, they expanded their online presence during the pandemic and now reach more consumers than ever. Second, to take advantage of this increased reach, smart retailers are turning to ecommerce channel advertising: selling ads on their sites to brands.

Ecommerce Channel Advertising & Retail Media Networks

In an era of escalating data privacy concerns and third-party data tracking limitations, brands sometimes struggle to reach their target consumers. However, the surge in online shopping translates to a treasure trove of first-party data. Knowing a lot about consumers and their intentions provides a perfect opportunity to present mid/bottom-of-purchase funnel consumers to brands.

Sophisticated retailers have taken things a step further by creating their own retail media networks (description). These retailers build out their technology platform and adopt programmatic advertising to automate the process of buying and selling online ads—something that’s existed for a decade in ad-supported environments like media and travel.

Retail Media Networks not only sell ads on the retailer’s ecommerce properties but also provide audience extension, a process of using the broader digital ecosystem to find a brand’s target customer and bring them back to the ecommerce site to, hopefully, make a purchase.

Low Quality Advertising can Tarnish Ecommerce’s Golden Goose

Retailers are fairly new to the programmatic advertising game and are experiencing some pains. While programmatic opens the door to new revenue it also runs the risk of serving low quality or scam ads to online shoppers. Even worse, if not properly managed, retail programmatic can expose consumers to unwanted, sometimes, malicious activity. Bad actors take advantage of the speed and complexity of programmatic to quickly and cheaply reach a large swath of consumers and also evade detection.

The “print recipe” ad on a clothing page is an example of a potential scam. It offers a browser extension to print coupons, however, many extensions are bundled with add-on programs that contain malicious software. Scams attempt to defraud consumers and are associated with the delivery of unwanted and frequently malicious activity like ransomware, keyloggers, credential theft, Remote Access Trojan (RAT), rootkits, virus, DDoS Bot, cryptominer, banking trojans, cross-site request forgery, ad injection, and worms.

These scams are rampant across the digital ecosystem, where the ad has little relevance to the page and the extension unnecessarily collects sensitive consumer data. [Figure 2].

Printrecipe scams on unrelated entertainment and news websites

Figure 2: “Print recipe” scams on unrelated entertainment and news websites

Ad Quality is Your Strategic Differentiator

Advertising is a great revenue channel, but only if you ensure brand-safe and high-quality ads. With holiday spend projected to grow 8-10% this year, retailers need to protect all elements of their strategic revenue channels—websites and ads, including creative, tags, and associated landing pages.

It’s critical to maintain brand integrity by looking out for scams and other unwanted activity like malware or inappropriate content. There are tools that can help identify and block these scams so your ecommerce operation maintains its integrity.

If you don’t, you run the risk of showing Squid Game ads to shoppers on your retail site. [Figure 3] At least there isn’t an option to print the recipe.

Squid Game costume scam on a retail site days after Halloween

Figure 3: Squid Game costume scam on a retail site days after Halloween