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Bait advertising is an unethical advertising technique that involves luring the customer in with a promise of a sale or an inexpensive item they may be interested in, and once capturing their attention, the online advertiser changes the scheme by making the product unavailable and then directing the consumer to a like product that is more expensive. An online vendor or merchant will offer the pseudo sale either in an online advertisement or newsletter.
This is also known as bait and switch advertising.
Bait advertising borders on being an outright fraudulent practice. Online companies who use it do so for the express purpose of coercing a consumer into buying a product they're interested in, but not for the price it was advertised, thus tricking, or baiting the consumer into switching, or buying something for a much higher price than the original item that grabbed their attention. Even if 1 percent of consumers actually purchase the pricier item, the advertiser using bait sales stands to gain a profit. Of course they must advertise many times in this fashion.
Bait advertising is also used in online job advertisements by misleading the potential applicant/employee about working conditions, pay, or other factors surrounding employment that are simply not true. Airlines also advertise in this manner by baiting their potential customers with great airfare deals, only to up the price or switch the advertisement to be that of a much more expensive flight. Here they've peaked the customer's interest and if the customer really wants to take the trip, they might pay for the more expensive travel package anyway. Hotel resorts use this form of advertising as well to a very large extent.
The problem with bait advertising is the legal issues that can ensue. In online retail, the U.S. has laws against bait advertising where merchants may be subject to lawsuits due to false advertising. They can also be sued for copyright infringement should they profit from the sale. But if a merchant can actually sell the advertised products even if they aggressively push another item, they can't be sued. In Wales and England, bait advertising is illegal under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Criminal prosecution, fines and two years in jail may result.