‘Dark patterns’ are how online stores get your extra moolah

Countdown clocks, “low-stock” labels: Inside the world of corporate peer pressure.


August 7, 2020

Let’s say you’re buying a pack of frozen White Castle sliders online, and a special offer pops up.

The option to turn it down is a guilt trip: “No thanks,” it might say, “I hate saving money.”

Sound like something your bratty brother would hiss? That’s the point.

These are ‘dark patterns’

They’re designed to get you to load up on more stuff than you might need. A Princeton study found more than 11% of ecommerce sites had at least one of them.

Last year, Congress batted around a bill that would ban some of these strategies, calling them “manipulative.”

Is dark magic at work? Here are some warning signs

  • Peer pressure. 80 people viewing an item? Sometimes, those warnings aren’t based on real data.
  • Scarcity. Nothing gets the credit card out faster than a “Low Stock” label.
  • Double negatives. Does “Uncheck the box if you prefer not to receive email updates” make any sense?
  • Countdowns. A clock is winding down your special offer. But once it hits zero? A lot of times, the timer just starts up again.

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