Dark Pattern: How retail websites are playing games with you
The study discovered 1,818 instances of Dark Patterns on shopping websites.
Dark Pattern is a term coined by Harry Brignull. He is a UX developer and has been tracking patterns on websites that trick people. These tricks that often mislead people to do what they don't want have been called Dark Patterns. Brignull runs a website that talks about these loopholes used by retail websites.
But what exactly is 'Dark Pattern'?
According to the website created by Brignull, Dark Pattern can be defined as "tricks used in websites and apps that make you do things that you didn't mean to, like buying or signing up for something."
This takes advantage of psychological and behavioural patterns in tricking the user or misleading them.
The website mentions that "if a company wants to trick you into doing something, they can take advantage of this by making a page look like it is saying one thing when it is, in fact, saying another."
After tracking various websites, Harry Brignull has listed out types of Dark Patterns. It’s a growing list and as the methods of tricking people increase, the list is also expected to grow. Let’s check out a few common types of Dark Patterns that you can easily relate to.
1. Sneak into Basket: Has it happened with you? You added a product to your cart but after you check out, you see more products added in the list.
If you do the process again, you will find that the website adds an additional product with the item. You need to check it to not add it to the cart. Why?! If a user wants to purchase something they can add that product separately to the cart, why are you sneaking it in the cart?
2. Forced Continuity and Roach Motel: This must have happened to you at least once. You join a free subscription/trial of a product or service. You come to know that the trial period has ended, how? Because money gets deducted from your account saying 'Your Subscription has been renewed'. Why can't the users stop the subscription from renewing it automatically?
Roach Motel is another way to make users feel frustrated. There are few mailing services and subscriptions (might not be paid) that are difficult to unsubscribe from. You don’t know where to go and what to do to get out of the subscription.
3. Confirmshaming: Have you felt a sense of guilt before opting out of a subscription? This feeling is because of the words/phrases that are shown to the users to make them feel shame at the time of cancelling the subscription.
4. Hidden Costs: The check out price increases multifold. Delivery charges, tax, GST, convenience fee and more.
5. Misdirection: The design of the website lures or attracts your attention to one thing in order to distract your attention from another. Example: If you are booking an airplane ticket and on the check out page, you must have seen various options flashing on both sides of the display. They ask the users to pay to get a seat of their choice.
In other cases, ‘’Users also bought this along with this'’ and more.
Now, you must be wondering how many companies or online retailers do this. Based on these factors and more, Princeton University students have conducted a study that shows startling findings.
1. The study discovered 1,818 instances of Dark Patterns on shopping websites. The patterns found on these websites represent 15 types of Dark Patterns.
2. These Dark Patterns were present on 1,254 of around 11K shopping websites (∼11.1%) of the researcher’s data set. The study mentions that a more popular website is more likely to feature Dark Patterns as compared to others. The popularity is based on Alexa rankings.
3. Researchers discovered 234 instances of deceptive Dark Patterns across 183 websites.
4. They also identified 22 third-party entities that provided the ability to create a Dark Pattern on a shopping website. Two of these entities openly advertise practices that enable deceptive messages.
Creating awareness around Dark Patterns will help many of us make better choices while browsing various websites.