Is tricking people a valid business strategy?

It’s hard to imagine standing at a cocktail party and answering the question, “So, what do you do for a living?” with, “Well, I trick people into giving me money.”

I just switched some domains from to another domain registry service. The guys at register have raised subtle duplicity to a high art. After you notify them that you want to change companies, they send you a note to confirm the switch. This, of course, is a fine security move.

The note begins with several paragraphs about how great their services are, and then has a link. It appears that this might be the l ink to authorize the change, but it’s not… in fact, it’s the link to DENY the change! Read a few more paragraphs down, and there’s the link. Click it within a few days or it becomes invalid.

Click on the link. It appears that you’re done. But if you stop now, the change won’t get authorized. You must now check the box on the new screen. And THEN you must click CONFIRM. It’s easy to imagine that you’re done now, and you’ll close the window. But if you do, they deny the change.

You must go to yet another screen and once again confirm the change (that’s four clicks and three screens when one click would have been sufficient).

This is all very Microsoftian in my opinion.

As subscriptions, ship-till-I-tell-you-to-stop and other business models enter the online arena (where the profit margin is 100%), we’re going to see a lot more of this, I’m afraid. Almost fifteen years ago, when I first did an online project for Prodigy, I was told that their best customer was someone who paid the $10 a month fee but never used the service. If someone FORGOT that they had signed up for Prodigy with their credit card, it might take years before they noticed the billing. While that may have seemed like the right strategy at the time, it’s pretty clear that it wasn’t much of a long-run strategy.

I’m the biggest fan in the world of the milkman’s return. The idea of subscriptions that save time and money for both parties is a no-brainer way to run a business. But if you have to trick people into doing business with you, it’s not much of a strategy, is it?