Companies are continuously developing and refining techniques to influence the online consumer. There is, however, a fine line between persuasion and deception. This article discusses the boundaries of online persuasion, drawing on the guidelines developed by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets. It describes the pitfalls associated with knowledge disparity between sellers and consumers, and argues that information asymmetry, cognitive biases and personalized communications can all impair the ability of consumers to make an informed choice. Using real-life examples, the article demonstrates how the design of online sales environments can go wrong. The article goes on to describe the benefits of ethical design, and provides guidance on how to make ethical design choices and use consumer data to test whether the design of an online environment is unfairly influencing consumers. Using these guidelines, marketing professionals can make thoughtful choices in the design of their online environment that will benefit both their company and its customers.
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