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Are brands’ mobile strategies attempting to trick customers?

In 2015 UK retailers saw £24billion in sales over Christmas, nearly half of which were through a mobile device. So far so good, but could brands be damaging their reputations by tricking their customers into contracts? Research by user experience (UX) agency Sigma, reveals hidden strategies that companies use on mobile sites to boost sales. Retailers including Amazon, River Island, and Just Fab are using what are known as ‘Dark UX’ methods – crafting their interfaces to trick users – to boost sales.

Amazon encouraged users to sign up to its Amazon Prime service without stipulating clearly that the free trial would roll into a monthly payment of £7.99. Women’s fashion e-tailer Just Fab was also found to be using scare tactics to convince users to sign up to its subscription service. The brand advertises special offers for ‘VIP members’ only, and displays a countdown graphic for these discounts on the site.

As well as trying to trick customers into contracts, in order to get data, brands are making the buying experience less smooth. River Island was found to be prioritising data collection over user experience, not allowing shoppers to checkout without going through a lengthy process of creating an account, where data such as their email address is collected.

Discussing why such tactics are short-term strategies, Hilary Stephenson, managing director of Sigma, says: “Brands simply shouldn’t be using unethical tactics to make more money, or collect data. Whilst these tactics can provide a quick and easy win for brands and marketers, they can prove damaging in the long term.

“The findings of our research should send a clear message to marketers to deter from these tactics. Dark UX can not only can they result in frustrated customers, but also a permanently damaged company reputation and loss of trust. Instead, good UX should be deployed to ensure users have enjoyable interactions with your interfaces and ensure they remain loyal and favourable towards your business.”

One of the first rules of building a brand is to be authentic. It is vital that marketers and PROs emphasise the value of being open and honest to the brands they advise, and help fight the use of misleading online sales tactics.


In November 2016 Sigma looked into some of the ‘Dark UX’ methods (user interfaces crafted to trick users into doing things they might not usually do on websites – spend more money, give up personal data etc.) deployed by retailers in the run-up to some of the busiest shopping periods of the year – Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas.

Sigma reviewed the mobile websites of retailers including Amazon, River Island, Just Fab, Groupon and PC World, looking out for the implementation of ‘Dark UX’ patterns throughout. For the full report go to

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