Bulletins

Amazon reportedly knows its Prime sign-up process is bad. It doesn't care.

Amazon has caught the attention of the FTC for its misleading and confusing tactics.

Amazon delivery driver

Amazon has caught flack for its confusing Prime sign-up and cancellation process.

Image: Amazon

Some Amazon customers have complained that they've been tricked into signing up for Amazon Prime. For Amazon, that'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 per year, has been confusing since 2017, despite internal concerns and discussions about clarifying it. No changes have been made due to the company's worries that subscription sign-up rates would drop if the sign-up and cancellation processes were more clear.

Amazon is using a design tactic known as "dark patterns," which manipulate customers into signing up for things they may not want using misleading and vague offers. Those patterns include fine print, oversized "accept" buttons and, yes, Amazon's "Get FREE Two-Day Delivery with Prime" button. That button automatically enrolls users in a free Prime trial, which later converts to a paid one.

Though Amazon considered changes to address these issues, Insider reported that those changes resulted in a drop in subscription growth when tested, so the changes were nixed by executives.

Some Amazon employees were concerned about catching the eye of the Federal Trade Commission, which has looked into Amazon's Prime subscriptions in recent years. The agency has reportedly investigated the deceptive patterns Amazon uses in its subscription sign-ups, as well as whether or not Amazon leadership is involved, but it is unclear whether or not the investigation is ongoing, Insider reported.

"Customer transparency and trust are top priorities for us," Jamil Ghani, VP of Amazon Prime, said in a statement to Protocol. "By design we make it clear and simple for customers to both sign up for or cancel their Prime membership. We continually listen to customer feedback and look for ways to improve the customer experience."

Amazon has also caught flack for its confusing cancellation process, with several groups filing complaints with the FTC about it last year. Internal documents found that the cancellation maze was actually intentional: In a project called "Iliad" in 2017, Amazon added multiple questions and offers that users needed to go through before actually getting to 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 on the matter filed by nonprofit Public Citizen last year reads.

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