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Study highlights consumer distrust due to dark design patterns
Fri, 15th Dec 2023

The growing issue of dark design patterns eroding online trust and causing financial losses to consumers has been highlighted by new research from Dovetail, a global SaaS customer insights research platform. The recent study reveals that despite regulatory interventions and efforts from designers to mitigate the issue, dark design continues to cause financial loss for consumers and erode trust in eCommerce and social media platforms.

The study, surveying 1,000 eCommerce and social media users aged between 18 and 54 globally, found that over 40% had experienced unplanned financial consequences due to dark design patterns. These unwanted outcomes were usually the results of clicking 'yes' to purchase more expensive items or being rushed through purchases by limited visibility of other options or prompts. Furthermore, nearly 56% revealed they had lost trust in a website or social media platform due to its dark or manipulative design patterns.

Dovetail, the market-leading customer insights platform, aims to empower designers in the face of these negative dark design patterns that are costing consumers and dwindling trust among social media users. The company's research ascertains that nearly 63% of survey respondents had to actively deselect supplementary products or services that were added automatically during checkout. An additional 62% discovered they had been intentionally guided towards purchasing more expensive products through design tactics such as brightly-coloured buttons.

Dovetail founder and CEO, Benjamin Humphrey, affirmed the continued application of dark design patterns, saying, "Deceptive dark design patterns are nothing new, but the problem is that dark design is infinitely more clever as the stakes get higher: what was once a nuisance on an off-the-beaten-track user experience, is now a gamble on privacy, data sharing, and high-stakes unintended financial consequences. We’re on a mission to empower designers, call out dark design, and stand up for the customer through informed design."

Humphrey underscores the reality for brands using dark design partners will be a loss of revenue. The study supports his stance as it shows that 43% of online shoppers had stopped buying from an online retailer due to dark design patterns. Over 40% of respondents also reported that they had encountered unexpected financial consequences due to dark design patterns.

Businesses often use tactics like the threat of running out of time, combined with perceived supply and demand. More than 65% of internet users in the study admitted they had been rushed through an online transaction due to limited supply. This tactic is widely used on online travel sites such as airline seat booking.

Not everyone encounters dark design on a daily basis. Only 40% of participants reported a frequent encounter with dark design, yet the annoyance is significant - just over 41% agreed they could not stand it, that companies needed to stop it, with a further 43.6% expressing irritation at these practices.

The issues raised by Dovetail's study echo similar ones in the United States where the Federal Trade Commission has pursued companies over the use of deceptive dark patterns. In September 2022, a $520 million settlement was reached with video gaming giant Epic Games over allegations it had deceived users into making unintentional purchases.