Etail ‘mind tricks’ endemic of entire sector

Following revelations on last night’s BBC Watchdog, that Boohoo has broken advertising rules through a number of misleading promotions, as a spokesperson on the show please I thought I would comment. Our company recently carried out similar research on a range of online retailers over Black Friday weekend and found them to have all used design ‘mind tricks’ to encourage consumers to spend more.

Boohoo is just one example, but we know this is happening across the entire retail industry. Websites are designed with ‘mind tricks’ that confuse consumers into making a purchase, often using behavioural psychology principles to drive sales.

These tactics take advantage of our desires to find a bargain or our fear of missing out on a deal and are likely to have been deliberately implemented for this reason.

Below is a cross-section of ‘Dark UX’ practices that we found in use over Black Friday weekend alone.


Amazon was found to have employed a number of strategies to encourage shoppers to spend. Firstly, it was offering in-demand electrical products, with no discernible discount when compared to other retailers. For example, a phone in Currys retailed for £779 without a discount, while Amazon claimed the same device was £779 reduced from £999.

Amazon’s ‘lightning deals’ – or limited offers – also help to create a fear of losing out on a deal by making them extremely time-sensitive.


Fashion retailer ASOS was offering a ‘Black Friday’ discount of 20 per cent – but only if you enter a promotional code. However, the ‘enter code’ box wasn’t in an obvious place during the checkout process. The brand is therefore promising customers a discount, but later encouraging them to forget to input it.


Similarly, Jacamo was offering a ‘code only’ Black Friday offer, which was difficult to see on the home screen. Furthermore, during the checkout process, the ‘enter code’ form only appeared on the basket page after signing in, but if you signed up as a new user, you were taken straight to the checkout page, bypassing the discount code option – meaning new users had to put in extra effort to get their discount.

During the registration process one of the ‘sign up’ buttons, actually added shoppers to the company’s mailing list. Moreover, during registration, the form pre-selected an opt-in – for a ‘Jacamo Pay’ credit account.


Researchers found that lifestyle retailer Very may have been encouraging ‘pressure’ sales. By stating that particular sales items are ‘Going fast!’ with ‘7 purchased in the last hour,’ shoppers may feel that they should buy immediately, or face the disappointment of the items selling out.

River Island

River Island was shown to be prioritising data collection over its customers’ privacy, with a near-invisible ‘opt-out’ tick box at the checkout stage. Not only does this potentially confuse shoppers, but it doesn’t meet recognised best-practice accessibility guidelines on colour contrast.


The fashion e-commerce site could be capitalising on the ‘fear of missing out’ by urging customers to complete their purchases before a ‘limited’ delivery offer is no longer available. However, it is unclear whether the offer is genuinely limited. Shoppers may once again feel compelled to buy an item at that moment, instead of taking time to reflect on whether it is what they really want or need.

By: Chris Bush, head of experience design, Sigma

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