4 Dark User Experience Patterns That Must Stop

0 min read

Brett Burns

Dark UX patterns are a borderline unethical area of web design that thrives on the deception of unsuspecting customers. A place where a business's interests and profits take precedence over it’s customers needs and wishes.

Methodical in its approach, dark UX patterns are well-thought out designs that purposefully trick customers into taking actions against their will. Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about bad design. This isn’t the end result of an inexperienced web designer creating a digital experience that is difficult and confusing to use. Dark UX patterns are intentional.

Online shoppers have to be especially weary of these dark UX tactics as it usually results in them being tricked into spending a lot more money than they initially bargained for. These dark practices are becoming increasingly frowned upon and online shoppers are becoming more aware of the trickery.

Honest designers are dedicating websites and articles, like darkpatterns.org, to increasing awareness of the various tactics these dishonest companies are using.

Today, I’ll shed light on 4 dark UX patterns commonly used in the eCommerce space that need to be stopped. So if you’re an eCommerce owner, or a director of eCommerce, take note and be aware so as not to implement any of these tactics on your online store.

1. Pre-Selected Check Boxes

This occurs far too often. Like when you’re booking a flight and the design automatically selects extra baggage or added travel insurance. Or when you’re completing the checkout form when trying to buy something online and the “sign me up for our newsletter” box is already ticked.

This is a classic dark UX pattern. The result of eCommerce businesses taking advantage of online shoppers who are new to buying online or aren’t overly detail oriented.

Just this week, I was booking a trip with GreyHound Australia and when I landed on the final checkout page I noticed that my total was $13 more than the originally quoted price. As I went back to take a closer look at the discrepancy, I found that they had pre-selected me for a $12 ‘premium upgrade’ and a $1 carbon footprint offset.

Budget airlines take advantage of similar dark UX patterns all the time, and even though affordable travel is a cut-throat, competitive industry, that doesn’t make it alright to make your margins from the off chance that a shopper isn’t quite savvy enough to spot the trickery.

Another example of this could be something a bit more subtle like what you’ll find on iStock where they automatically select the most expensive version of the product.

2. Automatically Adding Paired Items to Cart

eCommerce companies could argue that they’re offering a desirable service when pairing must-have items with other items already in the shopping cart. But the reality is that it’s forcing the user to take action and that’s not okay.

When delivering a dark UX patterns talk at a design conference, Harry Brignull, gave this example of an online retailer that automatically adds an iPad case to customers shopping carts who are trying to purchase an iPad.

Sneaking items into a shopping cart and forcing a customer to make a purchase they didn’t intend to is wrong. If you want to upsell a customer, that’s completely fine. Simply showcase similar items along the bottom of the cart, but never automatically add in a product.

3. Easy In - Difficult Out

If you’re offering up your customer an exceptional online shopping experience, they’ll be able to seamlessly purchase an item, on any device, within a matter of minutes. The question is, do you make it just as easy for them to return an item or do you make them jump through hoops? If your answer is the latter, you’re in trouble. That’s a dark UX pattern.

Gyms are notorious for this. Signing up online can be accomplished in a flash, there are CTAs on every page and you can quickly become a member and start working out the same day. Getting “in” the gym is easy.

However, if you want to cancel your gym membership, some gyms might make you visit in-store to get a cancellation request form, force you to fax it to head office, wait for 30 days, and then charge you for those 30 days. In layman’s terms, getting “out” of the gym is difficult.

Or take Target for example. As easy as it is to navigate their online store or visit one of their thousands of locations to make a purchase, they make the return process taxing. Shoppers must retain their receipt. Some items purchased online are not able to be returned in-store and some are - and they won’t let you know which ones until after you’ve made the purchase.

Tack on the fact that they won’t issue an exchange. You have to get a full refund first and then repurchase the correct item. On top of that, all the shipping charges are paid by the shopper.

eCommerce companies who engage in dark UX patterns are strategic in their approach of making the purchase simple, but the return challenging.

4. Zero Transparency

One of the biggest nuisances of online shopping is the hidden fees. Like JetStar Airlines with the additional service fees tacked on during checkout or MAXCDN with the sneaky $10/month hidden fee. Shoot me.

And even though we continue to write about transparency in eCommerce web design, online stores still continue to hide taxes, fees, and shipping until the very end of the buyer journey. This is a dark UX pattern practice that needs to be abolished. The major players don’t do it anymore, online shoppers are more aware and familiar than before, and it’s going to lose you business - 56% of online shoppers abandon their shopping cart because they experienced hidden costs.

Beware of the Dark Side

When brainstorming about user experience techniques that will help increase conversion don’t allow yourself to succumb to the dark side and transform from Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. Remember, the results you’ll experience from dark UX patterns are temporary, as customers will catch on to your ways and won’t return for a second or third purchase.

What other dark UX patterns have you come across? Mention them in the comments and let’s put an end to them once and for all.