UK ads watchdog slaps Amazon for UX dark arts after folk bought Prime subs they didn't want

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Amazon has been rapped by Britain's advertising watchdog after its baffling online payments page duped customers into signing up for an Prime subscription as they tried to pay for goods.

The trick, which falls squarely within the online category of "dark UX", was designed to confuse Amazon users into signing up for the £8/month (£96/year) service.

Seven people complained after being confronted with the confusing payment options – and now Amazon has been ordered not to display the misleading boxes again.

As the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) put it: "There was little incentive to cancel during the free trial period and no way of determining whether those who paid for Prime membership did so because they had intended from the outset to do so."

The payments page was laid out as described, somewhat confusingly, by the ASA:

A page on Amazon.co.uk, seen in May and June 2019, which formed part of the checkout process text stated, "… we're giving you a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime! Starting with this order …". A gold box included text which stated, "Order Now with Prime". That box was contained within a larger grey box. Text underneath the gold box, but within the grey one, stated, "Continue with FREE One-Day Delivery Pay later". An option to the left in blue text stated, "Continue and don't gain Amazon Prime benefits". Small print at the bottom of the page stated, "By signing up you acknowledge that you have read and agree to the Amazon Prime Terms and Conditions and authorise us to charge your credit card … after your 30-day free trial …"

Here's our own Tim Anderson at his wit's end:

Defending itself to the ASA, Amazon claimed customers who cancelled at any time during their 30-day trial period "could still take advantage of their Prime benefits for the entire 30-day duration of the trial" and insisted to adland's self-regulator that consumers really did intend to sign up and pay £8/month for free parcel delivery.

Rubbishing this, the ASA said: "The option to continue without signing up for the trial was presented as text stating 'Continue and don't gain Amazon Prime benefits', which was small and placed in a position which could easily be missed by consumers. It was also in a faint colour, and compared to the option presented in the grey and gold boxes it was significantly less prominent."

"Because we considered that the average consumer was likely to view the text within the grey and gold boxes as the only two options available," it continued, "with the 'option' in the grey box allowing them to continue without signing up to Prime, when that was not the case, we concluded that the presentation of the options was likely to mislead."

The Prime ad was ruled to be misleading. Amazon was ordered to fix its payments page to make Prime and non-Prime payments options clear. ®

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