How Amazon Is Tricking You Into Spending More Money

Online retailers like Amazon use a variety of tactics known as "dark patterns" to keep users tied to their ecosystems.

By Brian Scheid | Published

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As a consumer, we put a lot of trust and faith in the companies that we purchase our products from. We trust that those companies are partnering with us for our mutual best interests, but in reality, we find out that the companies are almost always looking to increase their overall sales without any true concern for the consumer. This fact becomes increasingly evident when we take a deep dive into some of the practices that online retailers, and in this case Amazon, use to confuse you and make it easy for you to sign up for something but extremely difficult for you to get out of that commitment using what is called by experts a dark pattern.

A dark pattern is a phrase coined by Harry Brignall back in 2010 when he began cataloging the issue and continues to bring awareness to this technique that online retailers like Amazon use to trap consumers in a maze.

A simple and easy-to-understand example of this was reported by, “have you ever tried to unsubscribe from an email newsletter that you never signed up for, only to find a mishmash of text—some of it nearly grayed out—at the bottom of the message, making it almost impossible to find an “unsubscribe” link? That’s an example of a “dark pattern.” Another example would be the steps you would take to try and delete your Amazon account entirely. 

Your first inclination would be to sign in to your account and go to your account page but if you click on every link on that page, none of it will lead you to this option. Instead, you need to scroll to the bottom of the Amazon landing page and click on “Help” under the “Let us Help You”, menu. From there you land on a page with many other links none of which will lead you to a delete account option, but there is a need more help option because you do indeed need more help.

Once you land on this page is where things start to get ridiculous for the user. There are many more links and not one will mention deleting your account, this brings us to the only logical option of the “Contact Us” link.  If you were hoping this is the end of the road, you were wrong as this page has no mention or link either that will let you delete your account.

You will need to click on the “Prime or Something Else” tab, and there is a dropdown menu that also does not have an option for account deletion, now you will need a little bit of luck. Hopefully, you randomly select the login and security which will open a second dropdown menu that finally has our first sign of being on the right track with a close my account option.  You would think you have hit the jackpot at this point and this odyssey is at its conclusion. Unfortunately, you would be incorrect.

This only triggers a live chat window with an Amazon retention representative who will try to dissuade you from deleting your account. They will have a list of why this would be a terrible decision on your part, but if you are steadfast in your decision eventually they will let you know that this is not something that you could do on your own, but they will be able to delete the account for you. This is referred to by (UX) specialist Harry Brignall as a roach motel which is very easy to get into but extremely difficult to get out of.

There are 12 different types of dark patterns that have been identified that online retailers will use to keep your business flowing through them.  They are Trick Questions, Sneak into Basket, Roach Motel, Privacy Zuckering, Price Comparison Prevention, Misdirection, Hidden Costs, Bait and Switch, Confirmshaming, Disguised Ads, Forced Continuity, and Friend Spam. It has been confirmed that Amazon uses 11 of these 12 tactics which are the most out of all the online retailers. 

Some of the other leaders in using these tactics are Anastasia Beverly Hills (8), Florence by mills (7), Urban Decay (5), and Under Armor (5).  Walmart which is Amazon’s biggest competitor only uses 4 of these techniques on its online retail site. This disparagement in the use by Amazon of these Dark Patterns has prompted an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and EU regulators.

Currently, these tactics are not illegal, but it appears that some sort of Consumer protection is warranted with what could be construed as abuses of Amazon’s customers. We need to have better protections or at least a monitoring of these online practices which are designed to trap consumers into spending more money with certain customers and make it difficult for them to make informed consumer decisions.