A proposed class action alleges Amazon relies on a “layered and confusing” process rife with exploitative “dark patterns” in an effort to prevent consumers from canceling their Prime memberships.
The 22-page complaint cites a March 2022 Business Insider report that revealed that Amazon had for years willfully attempted to keep Prime members locked into their memberships through a secret initiative known as “Project Iliad.” According to the case, “Project Iliad” involved adding “multiple layers of questions and new offers” to the Prime cancellation process, which the suit says effectively “tests [a] Prime member’s will to quit Amazon.” The lawsuit relays that “Project Iliad” was largely successful in that Amazon managed to cut the number of Prime cancellations by 14 percent at one point in 2017 as “fewer members managed to reach the final cancellation page.”
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Central to Amazon’s “frustrating” Prime cancellation process are “dark patterns,” methods of deception designed to exploit cognitive biases in consumers to influence and manipulate their choices, the lawsuit alleges. Per the suit, “[t]he hurdles to cancellation are intentional.”
More specifically, Amazon utilizes dark patterns in the wording, graphic design, and redundancies within the Prime cancellation process, making it “needlessly difficult, time-consuming, and frustrating to users,” the lawsuit says. For one, whereas signing up for Amazon Prime is “simple and intuitive,” canceling it involves wending through three pages or clicks simply to begin the process, according to the suit.
First, consumers who want to unsubscribe need to log into their account, navigate to the Amazon account menu, and find the “Prime membership” option, the case states. Notably, the suit says, the third page of the process, which a user can get to by clicking the “Manage membership” button, is “confusingly labeled” as “Membership Sharing,” and prompts the consumer first to share their benefits. The “End Membership” button is at the bottom of the page after a “Remind me before renewing” prompt, the filing says.
“This pattern of multiple redundant layers and needless sidetracks, which Amazon uses throughout the cancellation process, is a dark pattern known as a ‘roach motel,’ where it is easy to get in, but almost impossible to escape,” the complaint reads.
Once a user reaches the “End Membership” button, they encounter a vague warning stating that they will lose access to their Prime benefits, a tactic known as “confirm-shaming” whereby a consumer’s cognitive bias of loss aversion is exploited.
“Amazon exploits the user’s fear of missing out on benefits to undermine the user’s resolve to cancel the Prime membership,” the suit explains.
Even after a Prime member hits the “End Membership” button, they’re still tasked with multiple clicks, decisions and confirmations, having to navigate as many as six additional webpages rife with “manipulative messages,” the lawsuit claims.
If a Prime member persists in trying to cancel, they run up against three buttons, “Keep My Benefits,” “Cancel My Benefits,” and “Remind Me Later,” the suit continues. The “Cancel My Benefits” button creates uncertainty in the consumer since its name at this stage in the process is different than on previous pages, the filing says.
After clicking “Cancel My Benefits,” the Prime member is taken to yet another page where they’re reminded of how much money could be saved by switching to an annual membership or prompted to switch to a monthly subscription, the case states. From there, consumers looking to cancel are presented with again more buttons and more options to extend or keep their Prime membership, the suit relays.
On the final button-filled page of the cancellation process, Amazon “again combines vague warnings of lost benefits with the option of retaining the subscription or postponing the decision to a later date,” the lawsuit says.
“At this point in the procedure, the user has already confirmed multiple times the desire to cancel his or her Prime subscription,” the suit stresses. “But unless the user clicks the ‘End Now’ button on this final page, the user remains subscribed with Amazon Prime.”
The lawsuit looks to cover all consumers who enrolled in Amazon Prime in the United States and attempted on or after November 9, 2018 to cancel their Prime membership online by clicking at least two pages in the cancellation process and who incurred a membership fee after failing to cancel their membership for that period, for which Amazon did not reimburse them.
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