5 Reasons Not to Love Injected Ads This Valentine’s Day

February 13, 2020
by Tirtza Giles

It’s easy to see why retailers wouldn’t love Customer Journey Hijacking. First and foremost, it steals away their prospective online customers, impairing their ability to sell all the things they want to sell.

But there are also some less obvious reasons for retailers to dislike unauthorized ad injections – and some good reasons for consumers to disdain them too.

While all of those factors make Customer Journey Hijacking a frustrating and expensive problem year-round, they are particularly clear at peak times of year for eCommerce, such as the holiday shopping season and (ironically) the days leading up to Valentine’s Day.

With that in mind, here are five good reasons not to love injected ads on Valentine’s Day or any other day of the year:

Reason #1: They reduce revenue by disrupting the sales funnel.

Customer Journey Hijacking is a phenomenon in which bad actors target visitors to eCommerce websites by displaying injected ads. These ads are usually delivered by malware discreetly installed on the computers, smartphones, and other digital devices belonging to private consumers, although in some cases the bad actors instead rely on WiFi hijacking.

Their goal is to divert shoppers to other websites (usually to competing eCommerce sites) by disrupting the customer journey. And while these ads can appear at any stage of that journey, the numbers show that they appear most frequently towards the bottom of the sales funnel – at precisely the times when shoppers are most likely to make a purchase. By conducting a large-scale data analysis, we at Namogoo have found that the two types of eCommerce webpages on which injected ads are most likely to appear are checkout pages and order confirmation pages.

And injected ads work. They reduce conversion rates by between 2% and 5%, and they cut revenue per visitor down by between 5% and 7%. In short, they enable bad actors to make money at the expense of online retailers.

That brings us to a second reason to dislike injected ads.

Reason #2: They make retailers pay for illegitimate traffic.

How is Customer Journey Hijacking profitable for those bad actors? It typically enables them to make money through unscrupulous affiliate marketing practices. When they divert traffic from one website to another, they charge the company that owns the receiving website an affiliate fee.

In other words, while injected ads deprive one eCommerce company of sales it could otherwise have made, another eCommerce company is required to foot the bill for traffic generated through deceptive Customer Journey Hijacking. And the company whose website receives that illegitimate traffic is likely unaware that it is effectively paying for unauthorized ad injections.

Except sometimes, a bad actor charges a retailer for its own traffic. In those cases, first an injected ad appears to a shopper visiting an eCommerce website. Then, if that shopper clicks on the ad, they will be redirected to a different webpage within the same domain (the same overall website). And when that happens, the individual or company behind the injected ad can charge the retailer an affiliate fee.

But retailers are far from the only ones tricked by injected ads.

Reason #3: They trick consumers.

Consumers don’t typically realize when they’re subjected to Customer Journey Hijacking. Many injected ads are designed to look like legitimate ads, and we at Namogoo have found that 5% to 10% of them resemble legitimate alerts, such as error messages or recommendations from the user’s operating system.

In other cases, consumers won’t even see the injected ad at all. Instead, Customer Journey Hijacking can take place via in-text redirects, in which a user who clicks on a legitimate link on an eCommerce webpage will automatically be sent to a different website.

Moreover, because of a general lack of awareness of Customer Journey Hijacking among consumers, many may misinterpret what’s going on when they are subjected to an injected ad or an in-text redirect. In a survey of more than 1,300 online shoppers that we conducted, we found that if they were visiting an eCommerce website when they saw a pop-up ad for products sold by other stores, 48% of respondents would conclude that this ad had appeared because the website owner had allowed advertising – while only 3% would conclude that the ad was a result of a bug on their own computer. Similarly, we found that if they clicked on a link while visiting an eCommerce website and were then redirected to a different website from the intended one, 49% of consumers would conclude that redirect was the result of a bug on the eCommerce website, while only 7% would conclude that the bug was on their own computer.

How do those perceptions and misperceptions affect online retailers? The answer to that question is a fourth reason to dislike injected ads.

Reason #4: They hurt retailers’ reputations and customer relationships.

The immediate impact of Customer Journey Hijacking is obvious: When a shopper visiting one retailer’s website clicks on an injected ad promoting a similar product sold by a competing retailer and then opts to buy the second product instead, the first retailer loses out on a potential sale.

But injected ads can also pose a risk to a retailer’s long-term customer relationships by simply undercutting that retailer’s prices. In our consumer survey, 58% of respondents said that if they were shopping for a product on an eCommerce website when they saw an injected ad promoting the same product at a lower price on a competing website, they would be either “likely” or “very likely” to click the ad. And, perhaps most alarmingly, 80% said that if they then bought the product from the second website, they would return to that second site again the next time they wanted to search for a similar product.

Meanwhile, 78% of respondents said that if while visiting a retailer’s website they saw pop-ups, banners, and ads from other websites, that would be either “likely” or “very likely” to negatively impact their perception of that retailer.

But not all injected ads promote products sold by competing online stores. While most of them do advertise for competitors (between 60 and 65%, according to data we’ve collected), significant numbers of them instead promote controversial websites or include content that could damage a customer experience. Specifically, we have found that 10% of injected ads promote adult websites, while 15% to 20% of them promote online gambling or gaming. In addition, 3% of injected ads feature videos, which can consume system resources and cause a webpage to load slowly, freeze, or even crash.

And the potential to hurt brand reputations and long-term customer relationships is particularly troublesome when we consider which consumers are most likely to view injected ads.

Reason #5: They target the best shoppers.

While many retailers may be alarmed to discover that injected ads appear during between 15% and 25% of online shopping sessions, even those numbers don’t really reflect the full scope of the threat.

That’s because injected ads don’t appear to just any customers. Rather, the most active online shoppers are the ones most likely to be subjected to Customer Journey Hijacking, because they are more likely than other consumers to unwittingly download free software bundled with ad-injecting malware. In fact, shoppers using digital devices infected with ad injectors have significantly higher conversion rates across the board than other shoppers do, despite the injected ads they view. And their conversion rates rise even higher once those injected ads are blocked.

For example, last Valentine’s Day (2019), we calculated a conversion rate of 1.14% among consumers whose digital devices were not infected by ad injectors. Meanwhile, shoppers whose devices were infected with ad-injecting malware (which we prevented from actually displaying injected ads) had a conversion rate of 4.09%.

Is there a silver lining?

Whether you’re a retailer or a consumer, there is plenty of reason not to love injected ads. These ads deceptively divert online shoppers (especially the best ones) and hurt retailers’ brand reputations and customer relationships – all while making money by charging affiliate fees to unsuspecting eCommerce companies. And because Customer Journey Hijacking is a client-side phenomenon, it cannot be stopped by traditional cybersecurity measures.

But today’s retailers can fight back. First, with AI-powered technology such as Namogoo’s Customer Hijacking Prevention solution, these companies can block injected ads in real time. Then, they can turn the tables on Customer Journey Hijacking by distinguishing between consumers whose devices are infected with ad-injecting malware and those whose devices have no such malware. This way, these companies can enhance their customer segmentation and deliver more personalized user experiences – an especially promising approach to boosting sales revenue, given that infected users tend to be the most valuable customers.

That may not be a love story for the ages, but it does mean retailers have some power to turn the threat posed by injected ads into a useful opportunity.

How are injected ads impacting visitors to your eCommerce website, and how concerned should you be about the unlovable threat of Customer Journey Hijacking? You can find out by getting a free website analysis.