In simple terms, dark patterns are deceptive designs that online retailers use to try and nudge you toward purchases you otherwise wouldn’t make. For example, if an affirmative widget is larger and brighter than the option to decline, you may end up handing over your email address for marketing messages. The term was coined by Harry Brignull, a user experience designer, who designed a typology of dark patterns, most of which prey upon human’s psychological weaknesses.
Here are some examples of dark patterns commonly found on shopping websites that subtly persuade shoppers to buy more:
· Recommendation feature – while shopping for one product, ecommerce sites often display items that are frequently bought together. For example, batteries along with a toy car.
· Peer pressure – alert notifications like “Catherine just bought this dress”, or “30 people are looking at this item right now” increase pressure among customers. Most of the times these messages and pop-ups are artificially fabricated and are not indications of real consumers buying things. The aim is to dupe you into thinking that other people are interested in a product, thus convincing you that it’s worth buying.
· Scarcity Bias – this is also a marketing technique that is often used by offline stores as well. The idea is to make the customers believe that a product is available only for a short time or in short supply.
· Subtle messages – this method works by steering you towards a specific decision by downplaying other options. Messages like “No thanks, I like paying full price”, or “No thanks, I hate saving money”, aims at shaming those who decline their offers.
· Visual tricks – strategies like using a larger font size or brighter colors to give prominence to one option over another.
There is a very thin line between clever marketing and dark patterns in an ecommerce platform. It is up to the customers to avoid being duped. As a customer takes notes of the behaviors of a retailer that appear to be encouraging, and those that put pressure on you. Or you can add more friction to your shopping experience by taking time to make the purchase and reflecting on whether you actually need that product.
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