Amazon's Dark Little Secrets

I have always been a loyal member of Amazon. Especially since COVID-19, I have been a crazy spender, like wow, god knows how much money I have spent on it! (And let’s be honest, you cannot live without it too.)

Well, it is no doubt Amazon is a fantastic product that has helped a lot of users with its convenience. With its wide-range products, 2-day Prime free shipping, and flexible return policy, customers are opting for the Amazon Prime service at a rapid rate. As of December 2019, there were an estimated 112 million Amazon Prime subscribers in the U.S. alone! And of course, the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, was claimed the richest man in the world too.

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

So what’s about Amazon that makes people go crazy? Well, outside of its obvious factors, there are also some of Amazon’s “ little secrets” — the dark patterns.

What Are Dark Patterns?

When you use websites and apps, you don’t read every word on every page — you skim through and make assumptions. Some companies know it very well and use dark patterns to trick you do things that you didn’t mean to, like buying or signing up for something.

We will walk through some of the dark patterns Amazon has.

Misdirection

I buy my eyebrow pencil often off Amazon because of its price and convenience. But recently, when I attempted to make a purchase, I saw this page coming up.

I almost clicked the big orange circle on the right side to make a purchase as I usually did. But, a good thing, I took a second look. I noticed that the choice was set to default to the “Subscribe & Save” option, a newly introduced feature to encourage repeat shopping behaviors. Well, I appreciate that Amazon is trying to help me “save” money by buying more; but I really don’t need it. Imagine if I didn’t notice the default option and clicked it? I would have probably been receiving an eyebrow pencil every month for a year now while my credit card kept getting charged!

I am sure many people have made the mistake to subscribe to products without their intentions. This is a typical dark design pattern called Misdirection, where companies use deceptive behaviors to purposely misdirect you to purchase something you didn’t intend to.

Unsubscribe Emails

I am never a big fan of emails. As a matter of fact, I have over 8k unread emails sitting there! I am not sure how many of them are from Amazon, but there are certainly a lot. Each time I make a purchase, I receive an email. Each time my purchase gets shipped, I receive an email. Each time my purchase gets delivered, I receive an email. Each time there’s a big sale at Amazon, I receive an email… Although I appreciate Amazon constantly checking up on me, it could certainly get annoying sometimes. I wanted to unsubscribe to these email notifications, but it seems quite hard to do on the email page itself.

The footer of Amazon email

Unlike other emails that I get from other promotional companies where I could just simply hit the “unsubscribe” button at the footer of the email, for Amazon, I would have to go to the Communications Preference Center and update the preference. And if you don’t want to go through those steps? Then keep expecting oceans of emails coming from Amazon.

Roach Motel

I have been a loyal Amazon Prime member up until a few months ago when I moved to China, where Amazon is not the king. So I wanted to cancel my Prime membership and save myself $119 a year. I was naive enough to think canceling Amazon membership is an easy process — but clearly, I was wrong.

The lengthy process of canceling Amazon Prime started with various steps that would lead to different landing pages, and a complex structure to navigate says the consumer groups and are divided into different options.

  • Click and head to Account Settings
  • Search for the “Prime” subscription tab
  • Click the button that says “Manage Membership”
  • Click “End Membership”
  • Amazon Would Take Users to scroll through Prime’s benefits
  • Select “Cancel My Benefits” found in another tab
  • Redirect to another page that suggests a switch to a different payment method
  • Click “Continue to Cancel” found in another tab
  • The farewell message of Amazon

That was not the worst. After canceling my Prime membership, I also thought about deleting my account to avoid random unknown charges. But I browsed everywhere on the “My Account” page, there was no option. Then I browsed through the “Membership” page, no option either. I literally opened up so many different tabs on the navigation menu and found no option for deleting my account. At that stage, it took me almost half an hour for the whole process. I had to Google “how to delete my Amazon Account”, and people were telling me that there is no way to delete it by yourself unless you email or call their customer service. At that point, I gave up. I guess I will just keep my Amazon account.

Doesn’t it sound crazy that it only takes a click to sign up to Prime, but takes forever to cancel membership or delete an account? Well, that’s not surprising — because Amazon purposely used a typical type of dark pattern, the Roach Motel, making it easy to get into a situation but extremely hard to get out of.

I understand Amazon wants to generate more revenues and gain more Prime subscribers. But are these dark patterns ethical? Does it really offer users a good experience if they can drop in, but can’t get out? Maybe that’s something Amazon should think of.

Wo