When I originally drafted this post I titled it “Dark UX patterns and Company Ethics” but I think the problem goes even deeper than that.

A bit of back story

I recently got stung on an auto-renewal for a product that I adored. I loved absolutely everything about it, I loved the way it worked, I loved the community and I loved the results I got from it. I loved the company ethos.

Notice this is all in the past tense, the auto-renewal killed all the trust and all the love the product had built up in me.

I got an email out of the blue telling me that I’d just been billed for an auto-renewal. The email wasn’t warning me about the renewal, the company had just gone ahead and charged me for the it.

I hadn’t used the product in a month or so, I was actually considering whether I would move on to another one of their products to match my new goals.

As soon as I logged on to my account to check the auto-renewal to confirm it wasn’t a hoax, I tried to cancel it immediately. I did this via my mobile.

Here’s what I found…

01

Does anyone see the cancel subscription link?

That’s right it is hidden.

02

If you click the red link, which looks like it will go to another page, a Cancel Subscription button appears.

So I click cancel and then I receive an email saying “We hate to have lost you as a [customer]. The opinion of our [customers] is very important to us and we constantly try to improve our product in order to make the [product] for you and other [customers] more effective and efficient. We would therefore like to hear your feedback via [an email address]”.

I then write an email to support explaining that I’m very disappointed, that they’ve charged me without warning, there is no cancel button in their app, and on their website they have used dark UX patterns to hide the cancel button and I would like a refund.

This product in particular offers incentives for social sharing of their app and website. Having been so thrilled by the product in the early days I did this, they then add time on to your subscription. Whilst that seems great it does suddenly make it harder to keep track of when your subscription ends. Reviewing this in hindsight, I do wonder whether this was a genuine incentive or a tactic to confuse people on their end dates for their subscriptions.

Their response

In short, “you signed up under these terms and conditions”, “you’re not entitled to a refund”, “here have a coupon for another app”.

Yes, I did sign up under their Ts&Cs. Yes I understand that as their policy states auto-renewals are not entitled to a refund and yes giving me a coupon for another of their products is considered goodwill.

I’m not disputing that they are within their rights to respond with the above.

What disappoints me though is that they haven’t sent me an email a few days ahead asking me if I wanted to renew.

They’re answer was a resolute “no refund”, no discussion about it, just a firm no.

I’d also previously asked if they had trial coupons so I could trial out their other product (as I missed the introductory free trial due to illness). They said it wasn’t possible to use coupons, but it obviously is.

So what?

Some of you may be thinking, so what, boo hoo – you signed up to those terms stop moaning! I’m not complaining here, I’m just stating the facts so far.

I personally think the above is becoming a really easy way of duping loyal customers out of money. I think it is underhanded and I think it is an endemic issue for so many online services and apps.

This is how I would have handled it

If I were building a similar service, I would have done the following:

  • Set up an auto-renewal that had a reminder email 1 month out AND 3 days out
  • Made cancelling VERY easy
  • Added “pause my service” functionality
  • Provided a 14 day money back on auto-renewals
  • Appreciate my customers and their concerns should all of the above resulted in an auto-renewal but for whatever reason my customer had not cancelled and wanted to, I would refund them. No questions asked.

How do I feel now?

I have not to this date received a refund and will not receive one either. So they have instead turned a product and service advocate into a dissatisfied customer who will never use any of their products again. Their auto-renewal made them £50 but has lost them hundreds more from me. What will I say to my friends and family if they ask? I’ll direct them to another service instead, potentially losing thousands more. All to grab £50 off of an auto-renewal.

Something that used to fill me with positivity now fills me with disappointment and negativity. Their brand has left me with a bad taste in my mouth, one that I don’t think I’ll be able to wash away.

Why have I redacted everything above?

I decided to remove any reference to the product(s) above, because I didn’t want to highlight the company in question that I have used as an example. This is because it isn’t just that company that is doing it, there are countless other companies operating in a similar manner. Even some of the big players are doing it, once the big ones set a precedence it becomes a global standard.

Let’s do better

As designers, developers, UX specialists, project managers or whatever your role is in the chain of a product or service – you have the responsibility to speak up against these kind of practices.

And to all the companies out there grabbing auto-renewals, creating trials for services hoping that people will forget they’ll get charged at the end, using dark UX and anything else they can think of to dupe their customers out of their hard earned cash…

You know who you are and you need to stop it. Right now. Make a change, respect your customers. You will earn more money and everyone will have a happier life!