Trend Alert: Dark patterns

Trend Alert introduces you to the latest brands, products and services that are trending with 16-24s.

Ever felt like online shopping is a minefield, filled with opportunities to accidentally buy things you don’t actually need? As a marketer, you’ve probably noticed, and even admired, some of the clever tactics brands use to drive impulse buys. A new report from Princeton University highlights the most common techniques, known as dark patterns, and exposes the ecommerce brands that use them.

The dark patterns discussed in the report include sneaking extra items into the shopping basket, flagging when a product is selling out, and using misleading language such as double negatives. The researchers also found that in many cases the sites were giving false information, such as remaining stock quotas that were randomly generated, and limited time offers that were still available after the originally-stated deadline.

The prevalence of dark patterns on leading ecommerce sites proves that they must be effective in driving sales, but we have to question their impact on a brand’s relationship with their consumer. It’s interesting to note that many of the brands referenced in the report target Gen Z, such as Fashion Nova, New Balance and Savage x Fenty.

When we speak to Gen Z consumers, they consistently tell us they prefer brands that are ethical and transparent, so if they feel tricked into making a purchase, this risks damaging their relationship with that retailer. For example, some young consumers have pledged a year of “no-buy” in response to the pressurised marketing of beauty products. As this generation are the business leaders and big spenders of tomorrow, brands should consider the long-term implications alongside the short-term gain.

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