Retailers are using sneaky web design to catch you out


Online shopping offers massive benefits in terms of choice and efficiency, but we can’t deny that there are downsides that the savvy consumer needs to navigate. We’ve all come across misleading language, hidden costs or confusing subscription offers, and these are just a few examples of the ‘dark patterns’ that retailers sneak into their user experience (UX) design.

A new report has revealed the most common types of dark patterns that online retailers use – even reputable big names. These practices can try to lead you into buying something you don’t want or try to make it difficult for you to compare prices to know if you’re getting a real deal (one of the reasons we conduct a lot of research when compiling our own buying guides and features like the best Apple deals).

Infographic showing types of dark patterns

(Image credit: Merchant Machine)

The term dark patterns was coined back in 2010 by user experience UX specialist Harry Brignull, who runs the site It describes the misleading, intentionally confusing and just plain deceitful tactics that some online retailers build into their UX. These include misleading ads, misdirection and subscriptions. The aim is usually to exploit us subconsciously, taking advantage of our limited attention to get us to spend money, share data or sign up for something we don’t want (for a more positive approach to UX, see our own online UX design course).


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