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Amazon,, Very and other big brands using ‘Dark UX’ on mobile to “trick consumers” into spending, research claims

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Some of the UK’s top brands – including Amazon,, Very and BooHoo – are are using ‘Dark UX’ methods on mobile and the web in which website interfaces are deliberately designed to trick consumers into a bigger spend.

The recent research conducted by Sigma reveals that some of the UK’s biggest retailers are using the so-called ‘Dark UX’ strategy, which uses the colour theory and vague micro-copy to misdirect and manipulate their users.

According to Hilary Stephenson, managing director at Sigma: “Due to screen real estate on mobile, information such as T&Cs, delivery details or cancellation policies might be hidden behind accordion menus or in other sections that aren’t as obvious as they might be when viewed on a larger screen layout. That said, the rapid growth of mobile means that – naturally – mobile is where consumers will find problems as they browse and shop here more often.”

Stephenson adds: “One example of this is Gousto. On mobile, it’s very difficult to find the company’s contact number, despite it being clearly shown on the desktop site. To log a complaint, customers must use a contact form, which has a fixed response time of 48 hours.”

She concludes: “This is relatively common; mobile design focuses on persuading us to buy but doesn’t always extend to what happens when things go wrong, if people change their minds or if products are faulty. Several retailers came under fire for having missed or delayed packages over the Christmas period and we saw a lot of complaints from customers whereby the app or site interfaces had really let them down, citing an inability to find contact details, speak to a real person or reach the delivery drivers.”

So which retailers are doing what?


According to the report, when an Amazon customer wants to buy an electrical item, instead of clicking straight to either the basket, the site displays a pop-up for breakdown cover, which automatically draws shopper’s attention towards a yellow “Add to Basket” button and away from a greyed out “No thanks” button. Given that we are drawn towards visual elements which stand out from their surroundings-it is visible to the naked eye that Amazon is attempting to dissuade a consumer from adding a potentially unnecessary purchase.

Research also showed that major electrical retailer was offering discounts on sale items for shoppers to apply during the checkout process, but these, in fact, were later difficult to both find and redeem. Whilst incentivising purchase is not misconduct in itself, appears to have offered an extra promotion at this important stage in the process to tempt shoppers into buying items already on sale, but not clearly signposted such codes in the checkout process.

Clas Ohlson

Home store retailer was found to be offering a hardware product on sale with a bright red ‘clearance’ flash, suggesting that an item may only be available at a low price for a short time only. However, the same body of research reveals that the offer is actually valid until July 2018, more than six months later.


Women’s fashion retailer was also found to be deploying complex UX during the checkout process to encourage users to sign up for both its own and marketing materials. The research goes on to say that two ‘opt-in’ and ‘opt-out’ checkboxes were adopted to serve Very’s business goals, given that the syntax doesn’t help at all the user in deciding whether to tick it.


Pretty Little Thing and Boohoo

The report suggests that both fashion e-commerce sites are capitalising on ‘fear of missing out’ by urging their customers to complete their purchases before a ‘limited’ delivery offer is no longer available. However, it is unclear whether the offer is genuinely limited, or simply a countdown to a regular, daily occurrence. Shoppers might once again be panicked into buying an item in that moment, instead of taking the time to reflect and whether is it what they really want or need.


Similarly, marketplace Etsy was found to be using ‘scare tactics’ to encourage shoppers to purchase through the illusion of limited stock and competition for a particular product, according to the research. Underneath the ‘Add to Cart’ button, the store provides live ‘updates’ on the number of products still available. This is particularly provocative for a retailer of ‘handmade’ products, which are likely to be made in small quantities. However, the claim is completely unsubstantiated and may be used deliberately to accelerate purchase.



What can be done to eliminate ‘dark UX patterns’

Hilary Stephenson believes that employing a customer-first approach would ensure that all details that may be hidden, obscured or de-prioritised in the design would be presented more clearly to a customer.

She says:”A solid customer experience would support the user end-to-end and the UI design, content and update messages should reflect that, from browsing through sale, delivery to after-sales care.”

Photo credit: nikolas_stock (Fotolia)

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