Amazon doesn’t care if its Prime signup process is bad

Some Amazon customers have complained about being tricked into signing up for Amazon Prime. For Amazon, it’s a feature, not a bug, according to documents obtained by Insider.


The documents show that Amazon has been aware of complaints that the sign-up language for its Prime membership, which now costs $139 a year, has been confusing since 2017, despite internal concerns and discussions about clarifying it. No changes were made due to the company’s concerns that registration rates would drop if the registration and cancellation processes were clearer.

Amazon uses a design tactic known as “dark patterns,” which trick customers into signing up for things they may not want by using misleading and vague offers. These designs include small print, oversized “accept” buttons and, yes, Amazon’s “Get Free Two-Day Shipping With Prime” button. This button automatically enrolls users into a free Prime trial, which will then be converted to a paid trial.

Although Amazon considered changes to address these issues, Insider reported that these changes resulted in lower subscription growth during testing, so the changes were rolled back by executives.

Some Amazon employees feared they would attract the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which has scrutinized Amazon Prime subscriptions in recent years. The agency is reportedly investigating the misleading patterns Amazon uses in its subscription listings, as well as whether or not Amazon management was involved, but it’s unclear whether the investigation is ongoing or not. Insider reported.

“Transparency and customer trust are top priorities for us,” Jamil Ghani, vice president of Amazon Prime, said in a statement to Protocol. “By design, we make it simple and easy for customers to sign up or unsubscribe from Prime membership. We are constantly listening to customer feedback and looking for ways to improve the customer experience.”

Amazon has also been criticized for its confusing cancellation process, with several groups filing complaints with the FTC about it last year. Internal documents have revealed that the cancellation maze was actually intentional: In a project called “Iliad” in 2017, Amazon added several questions and offers that users had to go through before they could actually cancel their subscriptions, according to Insider.

“Digital deception should not be a viable business model, and the FTC has a responsibility to curb unfair or deceptive practices deployed to subvert and confuse consumers who intend to terminate an online service,” a complaint to this topic filed by the nonprofit Public Citizen last year reads.

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