Let me throw a scenario in your direction, you’ve finished watching Good Omens and need to pass the time somehow so you decide to check out a bunch of online retailers. It’s all just internet window shopping though because you’ve blown all your money on beer and you’re adamant that you won’t buy anything you don’t need.
If that’s been the case then you’ve been a victim of some subtle, creepy manipulation that tricks you into buying stuff and you probably didn’t even notice.
These little manipulative tricks are called “dark patterns” and are sneaky online versions of classic techniques used to influence consumer behaviour, such as putting impulse purchases near the cash registers.
While no one is sure how prevalent dark patterns are, a study from Princeton University analysed over 10,000 websites using software and found that over 1,200 used some variation of these dark patterns to ensnare customers.
Some dark patterns are pretty obvious, others are pretty impressive at how well they can hook people in, and some are just pure evil. Examples include:
- Sneaking products into a customer’s shopping cart without their consent or preselecting more expensive versions of a product
- Hidden costs and subscriptions
- Imposing deadlines on deals and sales
- Misdirection and manipulative language, such as “confirmshaming”, having opt-out options greyed out, and trick questions
- Fake testimonials or activity messages such as “*insert name* just saved 15% on her order!”
- Low stock messages
- Making it annoyingly difficult to cancel a subscription or order
- Forcing customers to create accounts or share info just to do what they set out to do
While you’re always going to have a target on your back whenever you shop online, it’s pretty chilling to know just how far certain sites will go just to get you to hit that “place order” button on stuff you don’t really need or even want.