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Retailers found to be using Dark UX to trick customers into spending

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As Christmas approaches and brings with it some of the busiest shopping days of the year, new research has revealed retailers including Amazon, River Island, and Just Fab are using what are known as ‘Dark UX’ methods – crafting their interfaces that can mislead users – to boost sales on mobile.

So finds some interesting research by user experience (UX) agency Sigma, which evaluates the hidden strategies that some brands are using on their mobile sites to boost sales.

Amazon was found to be encouraging users to sign up to its Amazon Prime service without stipulating clearly that the free trial would roll into a monthly payment of £7.99. The mobile site contains a yellow button in the checkout process that has the text ‘FREE one-day delivery – pay later’ at the checkout, confusing users into signing up to a service without knowing a subscription charge will be taken monthly when the 30-day free trial period ends, as mentioned in the small print.

Women’s fashion etailer Just Fab was also found to be using ‘time is running out’ tactics to convince users to sign up to its subscription service. The brand advertises special offers for ‘VIP members’ only, and displays a countdown graphic for these discounts on the site. It isn’t made as abundantly clear as perhaps it could that by signing up to be a VIP member customers will be charged £35 on a monthly basis, says the report.

But it wasn’t just money that brands are trying to squeeze out of customers. River Island was found to be prioritising data collection over user experience, not allowing shoppers to checkout without going through a lengthy process of creating an account, where data such as their email address is collected.

Commenting on the findings, Hilary Stephenson, managing director at Sigma, says: “Our research has really shone a light on the dark side of user experience. Brands simply shouldn’t be using these unethical tactics to make more money, or collect data. UX principles exist to simplify the user journey for customers, not to trick them into unknowingly signing up to expensive subscriptions or pressuring them to let go of their personal information.”

She continues: “As we only looked at a handful of big brands in our research, we fear that this could be a common problem across the board and increasing in popularity with the likes of Black Friday and Cyber Monday taking over in the run up to the festive season, putting pressure on brands to boost sales. By revealing how some businesses are making cash using unethical methods, we hope they take ownership of this issue and that others are deterred from being tempted down the same path.”

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