Because all it takes is one quick tap to add to the cart, Graham Jones, a psychologist based in the United Kingdom and the author of Click.ology, offers ways to outsmart virtual temptation.

By Yolanda Wikiel
Updated February 09, 2016
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Illustration: woman looking at dress on giant iPad
Credit: Karolin Schnoor
Illustration: woman looking at dress on giant iPad
Credit: Karolin Schnoor

Avoid Impaired Clicking.

Late-night browsing with a glass of Pinot seems harmless, but making buying decisions when tired or tipsy (i.e., when your defenses are down) can lead to a bummer arriving on your doorstep days later. “Reserve the item in your cart, then revisit it the next morning, when you have a clear head,” says Jones.

Realize That You’re Being Peer-Pressured.

There’s a reason why many sites have a “customers who bought this item” suggestion box. Our desire to conform to social groups is deeply rooted, says Jones: “We like to buy what our friends buy or what people ‘like us’ buy because it helps confirm our self-identity.”

Sidestep the Trap of Free Shipping.

“Retailers set the minimum-order size for free shipping marginally above the average order size because that encourages additional purchasing,” says Jones. If you seem to fall for this ploy every time, shop at sites that offer shipping and handling gratis no matter what (like Zappos and L.L.Bean).

Dismiss Retail Clickbait.

If those pumps you were eyeing pop up in a banner ad, it is not a sign from the universe that they were meant to be yours. To keep companies from reminding you that you “forgot” to buy something, clear your browser cookies or use an advertising blocker within your browser. (For details, Google “block ads in web browser.”) Likewise, unsubscribe from e-mail newsletters to avoid being seduced daily by sale alerts.

Take a Breather.

Don’t rush into a purchase because of a flash sale’s countdown clock or a low-stock indicator (only 2 left!). “If an item we desire is scarce, our survival instincts kick in and we want that item now, in case we can’t have it in the future,” says Jones. Consumers have no way of knowing if retailers are being misleading. (They may have two in the warehouse but could order more.) Even if time is of the essence, step away from the computer for at least five minutes to help gain perspective.

Create a Speed Bump.

Instead of keeping your credit card stored on your go-to retail sites, use the guest-checkout option whenever possible. Not only does this increase security but it also means you’ll have time to consider if a purchase is worth the hassle of punching in address and credit-card info.