5 ways businesses try to trick you into spending more online


How many times have you ordered something online and noticed that the company tries to slip a magazine subscription into your cart before final checkout? Or have you ever booked travel online and noticed the provider automatically signs you up for travel insurance — and you’ll have to pay for it unless you opt out?

It’s a murky corner of the marketing world and it’s called ‘dark patterning’ by usability experts.

Read more: These retailers will reward you for abandoning your online shopping cart

Some common dark pattern ploys used by marketers

There’s a website named DarkPatterns.org that lists common ploys and tracks their frequency.

‘Dark Patterns are user interfaces that are designed to trick people,’ the website explains.

‘Normally when you think of ‘bad design,’ you think of laziness or mistakes…Dark Patterns are different — they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user’s interests in mind.’

At the time of this writing, more than a dozen types of dark patterns have been identified. Here’s a primer on a few of the more common:

Sneak into basket – Hey, how did that magazine subscription or travel insurance show up in your cart?! The answer is that the retailer probably added it there, hoping you wouldn’t notice. And they’re probably going to make it difficult for you to remove the unwanted items. LiveNation.com and Active.com are a few of the sites that are reportedly guilty of doing this.

Roach motel – Signing up is fast and easy but just trying closing that account! Skype, LiveNation and Stamps.com are a few of the sites that DarkPatterns says employ this technique. Like the Eagles song says, ‘You can’t check out anytime you like / but you can never leave.’

Privacy Zuckering – Don’t you just love the name? It’s an homage to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. It was coined in 2010 when Facebook released a new privacy user interface, which supposedly offered ‘new, simplistic privacy choices.’ But in reality, visitors reportedly had to go to multiple pages to achieve full privacy on the popular social network.

Misdirection – Your attention is focused on one thing in order to distract you from noticing something else. In one possible example, an unrelated action you take may set Bing as your default search engine without you knowing it. Or here’s another one: A few major airlines — British Airways, Ryanair and Virgin America — reportedly try to osbscure free or cheap options for booking tickets, selecting seats, etc.


Hidden costs – You know the drill: You get to the last step of the checkout process, only to discover some unexpected charges have appeared, such as a delivery fee. Both Ticketmaster.com and Hotels.com were reportedly doing this back in 2010, according to DarkPatterns.

Read more: 8 online shopping hacks everyone should know

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