Dark Patterns: Online Shopping Tricks to Fool Shoppers

Dark patterns are everywhere. When I spot a dark pattern I immediately do not engage. For me this is instinctual. Web sites lure you in with gimmicks such as a great sale, these are the last before they sell out, limited time offers. Most of these are not really new and have comparable examples in real life.

Dark Patterns are tricks used in websites and apps that make you do things that you didn’t mean to, like buying or signing up for something.

When you use websites and apps, you don’t read every word on every page – you skim read and make assumptions. 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. source

Dark patterns are psychological tricks that fool us into doing something, such as buy or sign up for something. These are really not new. Retail has been using these psychological tricks for a long time. In retail, however, we are wise to their methods, and if we do not visit the store we are immune. Using a smartphone app the store goes to you.

An Atlantic article mentions a few patterns.

Scarcity: Scarcity is when an online store says “Only 3 left in stock”. I see this on Amazon and eBay. You cannot see the stock on a web site, so have no idea if they are running short. They could lie. The retailer can and will always reorder, so this should not fool shoppers to buy a product. In retail we have the “While supplies last” clause in advertising, but even then if it is not something we want, we largely ignore it.

Flash sale: The sale will end soon, so buy now at this lower price. I see this on late night shopping channels, as well as tv commercials. “Call within the next 5 minutes and you will receive a bonus something”. This is also not new, just an online spin on s standard marketing practice.

Social Proof: This is when sites state “90 people have viewed this ad”, implying that this product is really popular. We don’t usually see this in retail. We do see pics of movie stars wearing products, and their popularity and sales increase. Retail does not have anything comparable in store. Really, I don’t care if others are looking at the same product, but it seems like many other people do. I am sure that these numbers are made up, faked to make you feel you need it, too.

Free Trials: These are when the company offers you 3 months for free, but you need to provide your credit card. You forget and then get charged. Retail also has this. I do recall companies selling records using this scheme, where you get some free records for a set period of time, when you can cancel, but after they send you a record per month and charge you. This used to happen with books as well.

Almost all these schemes have a retail counterpart. We will get used to them, eventually. The issue is that smartphones are addictive and are with us all the time. In retail we can walk away from the store, or turn off the TV, but there’s no escaping the addictive smartphone.

You need to take responsibility and see these for what they are: scam methods used to take your money. In time, this too, will pass.

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