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Don’t trick your customers with deceptive patterns

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Deceptive patterns and why your business should avoid them

Banish deceptive patterns from your website. Instead focus on fostering transparency and loyalty.

Deceptive patterns are used to promote business outcomes at a customer’s expense; but they are unethical, legally problematic, and create a negative customer experience.

UX/UI Designer and Beth Matthews, author of accessibility blog post
Written by Beth Matthews

Imagine you’re booking tickets online for an event. You’ve snagged them at a great price, added them to your cart and headed straight to the checkout to pay. As you work your way through the process, the total cost keeps adding up – admin fees, handling fees, insurance and other miscellaneous costs. 

That once ‘great price’ has now doubled and, as a customer, you’re left feeling frustrated. Hidden cost is just one example of the many deceptive patterns businesses use on their websites, to trick users into handing over additional money or personal details.

It may be tempting to use a deceptive pattern to boost your conversions, but it can leave users feeling cheated or misled, permanently damaging their relationship with your business.

Read on to see what dark patterns you should avoid on your site, and why they’re not worth the risk.

Deceptive patterns to banish from your website

Confirmshaming 

Have you ever tried to unsubscribe from an email subscription and been met with an emotive message saying how upset they are to see you go?

Confirmshaming is the use of language or imagery to make the user feel guilt or shame and make a decision against their best interest. In this instance, the messaging used is attempting to make the user feel guilty and change their mind about unsubscribing.

Examples of Confirmshaming as a deceptive pattern in emails and website notifications

Scarcity

Scarcity is the technique of creating a sense of urgency by falsely limiting the availability of a product or service.

This could involve showing low stock numbers, with a supporting message like ‘Hurry! Selling fast!’’, countdown timers for limited offers, or a statement about high demand, when in reality this isn’t true.

The main goal here is to pressure the user into a quick purchase decision by making them fear that they may miss out if they don’t.

Examples of scarcity as a deceptive pattern in emails and website notifications

Roach Motel

Making something easy to sign up to but very hard to cancel is known as a ‘Roach Motel’. Typically this involves prominent sign up or subscription buttons but hidden or non-existent cancellation options.

They may be hidden in the depths of the site as a tiny text link, that leads the user in circles, or they may not exist at all, instead replaced with a message telling the user they can only cancel via phone (usually without displaying the number). 

This means users can easily get into situations that they can’t get out of,  leading them to pay for services or subscriptions they no longer want.

Hidden costs

Hidden costs refer to additional charges or fees that are not initially disclosed to customers before they take their purchase through to the checkout.

As mentioned in the introduction, these can include things like admin fees, handling fees and insurance that are usually found on sites selling tickets for events.

Privacy Zuckering

Named after Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Privacy Zuckering involves manipulating users into handing over more of their private information than they intended to or even realised.

This highly unethical tactic involves designing user interfaces in a way that encourages users to disclose personal data through confusing or misleading language, layout or default settings. 

Looking at computer screen

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Nagging

Nagging is where persistent, intrusive messages or prompts try to pressure users into taking a specific action.

Often used to push users towards subscribing to newsletters, enabling notifications or making purchases, nagging disrupts the user’s experience on a website or app until they give in and agree just to get it to stop. 

Examples of nagging as a deceptive pattern in emails and website notifications

Trick questions

You’ll often spot a trick question hiding as a check box at the bottom of a form:

“Tick if you don’t want to receive marketing emails.”

This forces the user to tick to opt out rather than opt in as is the standard. 

Double negatives are also a widely used trick question: 

“Tick if you do not want to opt out of marketing emails.”

This use of confusing language may add a new subscriber to your list, but if the user isn’t interested in what you’re sending in the first place then is it really a good subscriber to have?

UX/UI Designer and Insights Specialist Matt Woodman, author of accessibility guide

Further reading

Your free guide: Why digital experiences designed with empathy help marketers win.

Instead of using deceptive patterns, learn about user-centred design and marketing with empathy. Written by award-winning UX & UI Designer, Matt Woodman.

Takeaways

We’ve covered just a handful of examples of the many deceptive patterns businesses can and do use to trick users. While they may return a small, temporary uplift in conversions or sales, ultimately they only serve to leave users frustrated and upset, with a negative view of your business that is unlikely to go away.

Avoiding these patterns, and focusing instead on being transparent and honest with your user base, fosters loyal and good relationships that will ultimately lead to a positive brand image and more sustainable growth.

Beth looking at camera in front of a tunnel

Beth Matthews UX/UI Designer

Monday 1st July 2024