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Bait and Switch


Bait and switch is a deceptive marketing tactic where a business lures customers in with the promise of an attractive deal or product, and then switches to a different or more expensive product once the customer is interested. The initial attractive offer is often unavailable, or the customer may feel pressure to purchase the alternative due to sales tactics. This practice is considered unethical and in some cases illegal.


The phonetic transcription of the keyword “Bait and Switch” is /beɪt ənd swɪtʃ/.

Key Takeaways

  1. Bait and Switch is a deceptive marketing tactic where customers are lured in with the promise of a great deal on a product or service, only to have it replaced with a less desirable option at a higher price or with inferior quality.
  2. This unethical practice exploits customer trust and can lead to negative consequences for businesses, including a damaged reputation, loss of customers, and potential legal penalties or enforcement actions from consumer protection agencies.
  3. Consumers can protect themselves from bait and switch strategies by researching businesses and products beforehand, being skeptical about deals that seem too good to be true, and understanding their rights as consumers to take action against deceptive marketing practices.


The business/finance term “Bait and Switch” is important because it denotes a deceptive and unethical marketing strategy involving the false promotion of a non-existent or substantially different product or service to attract customers. In this tactic, customers are lured in by the advertised low price or appealing features of the “bait,” but when they arrive at the store, they find that the advertised item is unavailable or of lower quality. The seller then attempts to “switch” the customer to a more expensive or less desirable alternative. Bait and switch tactics not only deceive potential customers and harm their trust, but in many jurisdictions, it is considered illegal and punishable by law. Therefore, being aware of bait and switch practices can help consumers make informed decisions and businesses avoid legal liabilities as well as reputational damage.


Bait and Switch is a deceptive marketing and sales strategy often employed by businesses to attract customers under false pretenses. The main purpose of this tactic is to lure potential buyers by advertising a product or service at an irresistibly low price, only to reveal later that the item is unavailable or comes with hidden conditions. Consequently, customers are then directed towards a more expensive or profitable alternative that may not have been their initial choice. This unscrupulous tactic is frequently used by various companies, including retailers, lenders, and service providers, to capitalize on consumers’ desire for a bargain, ultimately aiming to accelerate sales and generate greater profits.

Apart from boosting the company’s revenue, bait and switch tactics also serve as a means to outmaneuver competitors. By promoting seemingly unbeatable deals, businesses can entice customers away from rival establishments and expand their market share. However, despite its short-term effectiveness, bait and switch can be detrimental in the long run, as it undermines consumer trust and can lead to long-lasting damage to brand reputation. Consequently, various consumer protection regulations and laws have been enacted worldwide to deter businesses from employing such unethical tactics and safeguard customer interests.


1. Electronics store: An electronics store advertises a high-quality television at an incredibly low price, attracting many customers to the store. However, once customers arrive, they are told that the advertised television is out of stock and are encouraged to buy a more expensive, often lesser-quality model instead. The great deal offered earlier served as bait, but customers ultimately face a switch of product.

2. Car dealership: A car dealership advertises a specific vehicle make and model at a low price to attract potential buyers. When customers visit the dealership, they are informed that the advertised vehicle has sold out or is unavailable. The salesperson then shows them higher-priced vehicles with additional features, trying to convince them to buy a more expensive car than initially advertised.

3. Cable and internet services: A telecommunications company offers a promotional package with high-speed internet and cable channels at a discounted rate for the first few months. However, after the promotional period ends, customers find their bills increasing significantly. When they contact the company, they are informed that the original deal was only for a limited time, and they must now choose between more expensive plans without the option to return to the cheaper deal.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is the “bait and switch” tactic in finance and business?

Bait and switch is a deceptive marketing practice where a company attracts customers by advertising a product or service at a low price or with attractive benefits, but once the customer expresses interest, they are presented with a more expensive or different product.

Is “bait and switch” illegal?

Yes, in many jurisdictions, bait and switch is considered illegal and unethical. Consumer protection laws often prohibit bait and switch tactics, and businesses found guilty of using them can face legal repercussions such as fines and penalties.

How does bait and switch affect consumers?

Consumers fall victim to bait and switch when they are enticed by a low price or attractive offer, only to find out that the actual product or service comes with hidden costs, is not available, or has lower quality than initially promised. This can lead to a negative customer experience and a loss of trust in the company.

Can you give an example of bait and switch in business?

A common example of bait and switch is when a retailer advertises a high-quality product at an incredibly low price. When customers arrive at the store to purchase the item, they find out that the advertised product is “out of stock” or has been replaced with a more expensive, inferior, or differently featured product.

How can I avoid falling victim to bait and switch tactics?

To avoid bait and switch tactics, consumers should be cautious of deals that seem too good to be true. It’s essential to research the company and its reputation, read customer reviews, and pay attention to the fine print before making a purchase. If something seems fishy, it’s better to walk away and find a more trustworthy source.

What can I do if I’ve been a victim of bait and switch?

If you believe you’ve been a victim of bait and switch, you can file a complaint with your local consumer protection agency or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Keep records of your transactions and interactions with the company, including any advertisements you’ve seen and receipts of purchases, to support your claim.

Related Finance Terms

  • False Advertising
  • Consumer Fraud
  • Deceptive Marketing
  • Product Substitution
  • Unfair Trade Practices

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