Who Wins and Who Loses When Customer Journeys Are Hijacked?

February 19, 2020
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Perhaps the two most important things to know about Customer Journey Hijacking are that it’s a constant for today’s eCommerce companies and that, simply put, it works.

Customer Journey Hijacking relies on injected ads that are displayed to consumers visiting eCommerce websites – ads that are designed (often deceptively) to entice these shoppers to click. Those ads are discreetly injected into the user’s computer, smartphone, or other digital device when they download extensions, apps and other freemium software – although in some cases, these ads are instead injected through WiFi hijacking. Additionally, sometimes Customer Journey Hijacking relies on in-text redirects, in which a consumer who clicks a link on an eCommerce website is automatically (and often unwittingly) sent to a different URL from the intended one.

But while it’s easy to see the problems with Customer Journey Hijacking, it’s not always as obvious who benefits and who is victimized by the deceptive use of injected ads. And in some cases, an individual or company could see some benefit from injected ads while also suffering significant negative consequences.

So, who are the winners and who are the losers when a customer journey is hijacked? To answer that question, this post will take a look at four different groups and how they are impacted by injected ads.

The big losers: eCommerce companies losing traffic

When Customer Journey Hijacking is successful, it steals a consumer away from one eCommerce website and sends them to a different website, where they then make a purchase. By appearing during 15% to 25% of online shopping sessions, injected ads decrease online stores’ conversion rates by between 2% and 5%. As a result, they reduce revenue per visitor by between 5% and 7%.

In this scenario, if your website is the one losing traffic, then you’re losing out on customers, on sales opportunities, and on sales revenue. You’re also likely to see your brand reputation tarnished as a result. Although most injected ads disrupt customer journeys by promoting products offered by competing online stores, smaller numbers of these ads promote controversial content such as adult websites (roughly 10%) or online gambling and gaming (roughly 15% to 20%).

Adding to the problem, injected ads disproportionately target the best customers, because the most active online shoppers are the ones most likely to download free software that comes pre-packaged with adware. (In fact, we consistently see that shoppers exposed to injected ads actually have higher conversion rates than other consumers – and these above-average conversion rates rise even higher after we block those ads.) And the numbers show that when a consumer views injected ads while visiting a given retailer’s eCommerce website, those ads are likely to hurt that consumer’s view of the retailer.

The big winners: unscrupulous affiliate marketers

One of the key reasons Customer Journey Hijacking is such a widespread problem is that it is profitable for the individuals and companies behind the unauthorized ad injections. These bad actors make money by first using injected ads to redirect online traffic from one website to another, and then charging the owner of the receiving website for this “service.”

At its best, affiliate marketing is supposed to benefit consumers, eCommerce companies, and the affiliates themselves by providing honest product recommendations to interested shoppers. Instead, however, the unscrupulous affiliate marketers who engage in Customer Journey Hijacking use deceptive practices to redirect online traffic for a price.

And, as the ongoing prevalence of Customer Journey Hijacking shows, that price is enough to keep those marketers in business.

The paying losers: eCommerce companies gaining traffic

Every time an injected ad steals a consumer away from one eCommerce website and redirects them to a competing site, the owner of that second website gains a new prospective customer. So how are retailers that receive traffic via injected ads the victims here?

For one thing, a retailer that gains online visitors from Customer Journey Hijacking typically pays for this traffic (at least if these visitors end up making a purchase). And since this retailer will probably not realize that the visitors they have received were acquired from an injected ad, the retailer is effectively being tricked into paying for illegitimate online traffic. Additionally, in some cases an eCommerce company will actually be tricked into paying for its own traffic by deceptive affiliate marketers who redirect shoppers from one of the eCommerce company’s webpages to another page within its domain.

Even in the most profitable scenario for this eCommerce company – a case in which the company receives a visitor via an injected ad, and then that visitor goes on to buy products from that company – that company is being tricked and charged for traffic acquired through Customer Journey Hijacking.

The tricked losers: consumers

Of course, eCommerce companies are not the only ones tricked by injected ads.

Is it possible that an injected ad could result in a consumer paying less than they otherwise would? It certainly is – but we know that the content of injected ads is often deceptive. Many of these ads are designed to mimic legitimate advertisements, and some of them (roughly 5% to 10%) are designed to imitate legitimate alerts such as error messages.

Additionally, the ways injected ads are delivered are often misleading. In some cases, these ads are designed to look like legitimate software. And some of these ad injectors stand out for the lengths they go to in order to disguise their adware.

How does Customer Journey Hijacking impact your business?

If you work in the field of eCommerce, chances are that injected ads affect you somehow. And, unless your company actively engages in Customer Journey Hijacking, you’re probably on the losing end.

Many visitors to your eCommerce website are likely subjected to injected ads – damaging your KPIs, your long-term customer relationships, customer’s privacy and your brand reputation. Plus, if injected ads are driving visitors from your competitors’ eCommerce websites to yours, you may be paying unscrupulous affiliate marketers for this illegitimate traffic. And if those bad actors are just redirecting visitors within your website, you may actually be paying them for your own traffic.

Meanwhile, those shoppers who view injected ads while visiting your website are likely to suffer from an impaired customer buying journey and experience as a result of the deceptive practices of Customer Journey Hijacking.

In short, if you choose to block those injected ads, there aren’t many people who will miss them.

Is your online store suffering from the effects of Customer Journey Hijacking? You can find out by getting a free analysis of your eCommerce website.

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