Online Retail Hack

Selling miniature replicas to unsuspecting shoppers:

Online marketplaces sell tiny pink cowboy hats. They also sell miniature pencil sharpeners, palm-size kitchen utensils, scaled-down books and camping chairs so small they evoke the Stonehenge scene in “This Is Spinal Tap.” Many of the minuscule objects aren’t clearly advertised.


But there is no doubt some online sellers deliberately trick customers into buying smaller and often cheaper-to-produce items, Witcher said. Common tactics include displaying products against a white background rather than in room sets or on models, or photographing items with a perspective that makes them appear bigger than they really are. Dimensions can be hidden deep in the product description, or not included at all.

In those instances, the duped consumer “may say, well, it’s only $1, $2, maybe $3­—what’s the harm?” Witcher said. When the item arrives the shopper may be confused, amused or frustrated, but unlikely to complain or demand a refund.

“When you aggregate that to these companies who are selling hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of these items over time, that adds up to a nice chunk of change,” Witcher said. “It’s finding a loophole in how society works and making money off of it.”

Defrauding a lot of people out of a small amount each can be a very successful way of making money.

Posted on November 9, 2023 at 7:09 AM18 Comments


seth godin November 9, 2023 7:47 AM

Flashback to being scammed out of $25,000 thirty years ago…

The fulfillment house I was working with on a project called to apologize… an operator had mistakenly put orders from account 345 into my account, 354, could I please send it back?

I checked, and it was true, the money was there, so I sent it back.

Over the next two weeks, ANOTHER $25k disappeared from my corporate account, banks clawing back from chargebacks.

The chargebacks were from fraudulent orders on account 345.

They were selling a “matched set of designer luggage” for $29. With photos in the ad and everything.

When people got the ‘luggage’ is was one inch wide. Tiny dollhouse luggage.

A complicated scam indeed. The Secret Service got involved, and I learned a good lesson…

aaron November 9, 2023 11:38 AM

The listing online currently describes the hangers as “teddy dog cat puppet doll pet shop clothes holder,” and includes a picture with dimensions listed. “I swear neither of those things existed when I bought them,” Platt said.

Speaking of surreptitious site changes, I’m sure I read this story on earlier this week, but now it’s paywalled (and not because of cookies; of course I’ve cleared those). Too bad neither I nor apparently anyone else thought to archive it at the time. Here’s an alternate link to the same story, from a crappier site (disable stylesheets if the CSS prevents you from seeing the end of the story).

Clive Robinson November 9, 2023 11:53 AM

@ ALL,

I’ve heard of short selling…

But small selling, does it make you on delivery a small holder?

And several more bad jokes could follow…

But the point most will not think about is,

“How will an LLM or other ML see this?”

To appreciate the size of an object and how it is scaled needs as a minimum two points of refrence.

You can do this with two sensors or one sensor you can move. Either way you have to know the distance between the sensor points and calculate angles to refrence points in the two images.

Unless an LLM or ML has such a baseline measure to work from it can not build up a model of reality it can do work with.

JonKnowsNothing November 9, 2023 1:52 PM

@Clive, All

re: an LLM or ML has such a baseline measure

I have read of one LLM model that searches for physical flaws in objects. It does include some baseline measures to determine the size, sharp, depth and physical location of the flaw.

How such a baseline, if any, works in a Text or Art context, is an interesting question. An art version would end up being a cubist style distortion and a text version would be ee cummings.

Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain…
all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep

E. E. Cummings 1940


Yer Mom November 9, 2023 2:02 PM

That is precisely why some online retailers, (ALL should be required to do it) are asking sellers to enter size/dimensions, as in numbers/measurements. Learning is a life-long process whereby, sometimes, the lessons (usually those courses that are numbered 101) are very expensive – and there’s no money back! Curiosity does not always kill the cat.

Jimbo November 9, 2023 3:49 PM

Reminds me of ad years ago selling genuine metal sculputer of Abraham Lincoln by a famous artist for only $1.00. They got a penny in the mail…

Canis familiaris November 9, 2023 4:35 PM

There are people who do temporary makeovers of empty dwellings to make a portfolio of photographs for estate agents (realtors in USA-speak).
One of their tricks is to used two-thirds scale furniture, to make the rooms look bigger in the photographs.
When there are no people in the pictures for scale, it is very effective.

Joe Schmoe November 9, 2023 5:32 PM

So one could easily look a giant just by posing ’round small furniture like that. Endless fun…

aaron November 9, 2023 6:06 PM

So one could easily look a giant just by posing ’round small furniture like that.

Sure, as was done to make Hagrid look like a giant in the Harry Potter films (“Props around Harry and his friends are of normal size, while seemingly identical props placed around Hagrid are in fact smaller”). The technique is much more general and goes back millennia: the same page has an example from Ancient Rome, among many others.

Clive Robinson November 9, 2023 7:20 PM

@ Joe Schmoe,

“So one could easily look a giant just by posing ’round small furniture like that.”

You can play with perspective and fool the human eye quite easily.

Look up the “Ames Room”, that has a small viewing window / peep hole, through which the room looks normal. But the floor, ceiling, walls etc funnel away at to a person inside very odd angles. As they move around inside, to a person at the viewing window looking in they appeard to change from midgit to giant etc. See clip in,

There are however paintings going back to the time of Leonardo De Vinci that suggest people made such rooms or had thought out how to do so.

Morley November 10, 2023 12:30 AM

I saw this for a desk on Amazon a few years ago. The reviews were all upset about how it was a doll house desk. The picture was convincing.

Peter Galbavy November 10, 2023 2:26 AM

I recall many years ago a story (in the real media, not the more common hearsay) that there was an fraudBay scam of sellers selling an “Xbox box” – the buyer then got an empty box. Technically true, but.

Dave November 10, 2023 4:42 AM

@aaron: Unfortunately the linked article is also paywalled, alongside the three different paywalled WSJ articles. I haven’t found any accessible article so far, mostly because I can’t come up with a useful Google search term.

aaron November 10, 2023 10:16 AM

@aaron: Unfortunately the linked article is also paywalled

How would that be paywalled? I used an link specifically so it wouldn’t change, and I just verified that all the text’s still there (again, only visible with stylesheets disabled; it ends with “It’s kind of perfectly his size”, whereas it otherwise stops scrolling at “tiny pink cowboy hats”).

bloke November 13, 2023 3:28 PM

“Defrauding a lot of people out of a small amount each can be a very successful way of making money.”

Yup. Anyone who has ever become wealthy has either
A. Received a lot of money from one person (e.g. inheritance)
B. Received a sizable sum from a several persons
C. Received a smallish amount from a large amount of individuals, or
D. Received a tiny amount from a huge number of people

Or some combination of above.

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