How leading retailers are using dark UX patterns over Black Friday

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Black Friday is here, and retailers have been working on their advertising efforts for months, ready to promote deals both in store and online over this period. However, while there will be some legitimate savings to be had there is also a lot of price trickery and manipulation to wade through.

Last year, UK consumers spent £6.45 billion online over the Black Friday peak period from November 21 to Cyber Monday according to IMRG. But this is said to be much lower than industry forecasts – posing the question of whether Black Friday is losing its shine?

According to NRF (National Retail Federation), 90% of sales still happen in-store, an environment in which customers are much more aware of sales tactics they may encounter. However, the online playing field is a lot different and many are unaware of the dark UX traps they’re falling into.

UX design is about creating an optimal user experience but even this inherently user-friendly industry has a dark side, and deceptive design patterns are becoming more prevalent than you might think. Meaning these often-unseen -design choices are tricking users into handing over more time, money, or attention than they realise.

Designers have a responsibility to create sites and campaigns that are not deliberately misleading, and treat consumers with due care and respect, which will ultimately reflect better on the brands they represent in the long run.

Make more of the small print

Online retailers are renowned for offering free delivery on Black Friday, giving customers another initiative to buy during the flash sales. However, less well advertised is the small print around the returns policy for these items once the sales are over.

If customers are unhappy with their purchase, some retailers, like ASOS, offer free returns. But this isn’t always the case and customers can bear the burden of the cost of a return without realising it, if they do not read the small print.

If it is company policy for customers to pay the postage when returning goods then this should be made clear during the checkout process and not just mentioned in a separate policy document, or on a different section of the site.

Avoid scare tactics

Black Friday is a time pressured shopping event. Added time pressure can lead to panic buying but some online retailers have taken this one step further by advertising the scarcity of an item.

But the amount of stock advertised may not reflect the reality of what is available. Some businesses have been accused of using algorithms to manipulate customers into buying products which appear as “low in stock”. Allowing them to sell more items which may be in low demand by creating the illusion that the product is more popular than it actually is.

There should be processes in place to ensure that the information displayed is a true reflection of stock levels.

Steer clear of misdirection

Misdirection tactics can lead customers away from the product they want and towards a more expensive version or to hide other commitments like a monthly subscription. Amazon has made the headlines for its confusing user experience (UX) at the checkout, after “tricking” shoppers into signing up for Amazon Prime. While the company offers the first month for free, it then automatically starts charging customers for the remaining 11 months, and makes it very difficult to opt-out.

Amazon’s dark UX design has been so successful that Which? has a dedicated page to help those who have accidentally signed up for its Prime membership to unsubscribe. This was following research conducted by Which? that found nearly a third of its members have accidentally signed up to Amazon Prime.

To prevent customers from unintentionally signing up to commitments, designers can change the layout of a page to ensure that alternative options or add-ons are more prominent throughout the checkout process. Making the option to opt-out just as clear as the button to subscribe will signpost customers in the direction of the products they actually intended to buy.

Consciously using dark UX patterns over Black Friday can cast doubt upon the ethics of a company and has the potential to damage reputation in the long run. However, small changes implemented now can turn dark UX patterns into customer-friendly ones - leaving customers feeling valued rather than conned. More needs to be done to raise awareness of these dark UX patterns, and introducing clear ways to police the system and deal with offenders will raise ethical standards across the board.

Hilary Stephenson is managing director at digital user experience (UX) agency, Sigma.

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