September 6, 2023 ↘︎

How dark patterns help brands like Temu and Shein to drive sales

‘Dark patterns’ are intricately designed digital experiences that exploit human psychology – often at the expense of users’ best interests

Well-crafted UX design strives to enhance user satisfaction by providing a seamless and intuitive online experience.

However, lurking in the shadows are what are known as ‘dark patterns’, intricately designed digital experiences that exploit human psychology – often at the expense of users’ best interests.

In essence, a dark pattern is a devised user interface or interaction design that guides users into taking actions they might not have intended.

The line between ethically enriching user experiences and employing manipulative strategies is often blurred, making it challenging for users to discern when they are being led down a digital rabbit hole.

Tactics include false scarcity, hidden subscription fees, aggressive upselling, and unwanted auto-additions.

Such strategies not only frustrate and confuse consumers but also potentially breach legal and ethical boundaries by coercing consumers into unintended transactions.

By using these tactics, the business creates an environment where consumers are misled about the nature of their purchases, ultimately tricking them into spending money when they hadn’t planned on it.

Under scrutiny

This deceptive approach has raised concerns and put companies such as Shein and Temu under scrutiny. Like many other digital platforms, both Shein and Temu amass vast amounts of user data through various interactions and engagements.

This comprehensive data collection provides insights that can lead to a degree of control over user behaviours.

By meticulously tracking user actions, these brands can detect patterns indicative of potential dark-pattern implementation to create an immersive, and at times coercive, purchasing experience.

With these insights, businesses can scrutinise and refine their design choices and identify specific elements that might intentionally or unintentionally guide users towards undesirable outcomes.

Another pervasive concern with dark patterns is inadequate handling of user data and privacy. In an age when personal information is a digital currency, businesses are increasingly incorporating surreptitious methods to collect user data without obtaining explicit consent.

Real-world manifestations include misleading privacy consent forms, disguised options to decline data collection, and labyrinthine processes to cancel personal data from a platform.

The potential harm extends beyond mere inconvenience; it destroys user trust and perpetuates an environment in which businesses prioritise profit over user welfare.

Research underscores that individuals aged 18 to 28 are particularly prone to dark patterns, as they are trusting with their personal information during interactions online. The consequences of these manipulative tactics are multifaceted, potentially leading to a generation conditioned to accept less-than-transparent digital practices and fostering a pervasive culture of digital deception.

Ethical UX that works

So how can you ensure your use of UX and data helps you drive sales without putting you in the spotlight for unethical practices?

Effective UX design lies in its ability to facilitate positive interactions while respecting the autonomy and intentions of the user. This philosophy stands in stark contrast to the underhanded tactics of dark patterns, which exploit users’ vulnerabilities to steer them toward unintended actions. For instance, think about how hard it can be to unsubscribe from a service. Dark patterns deliberately make it confusing, often leading to users abandoning their efforts, so they end up staying subscribed without realising it.

To counter the influence of dark patterns, undertake a dual commitment: safeguarding users’ data privacy and cultivating a transparent, user-centric digital environment. Achieving this requires a multifaceted approach, starting with comprehensive privacy policies that explicitly outline data usage and collection practices.

Moreover, empower users to exercise control over their personal information by implementing robust cookie consent mechanisms and offering easy-to-use preference-management tools.

Foster greater transparency by openly communicating your data collection and usage practices to users. This builds trust and allows consumers to make informed decisions about their interactions with the platform.

Additionally, accountability measures ensure that identified dark patterns are promptly addressed, emphasising ethical design and user-centric experiences.

By collaboratively constructing an ecosystem that respects user privacy and avoids the pitfalls of dark patterns, businesses can not only cultivate a reputable brand but also contribute to the creation of a digital landscape that prioritises user wellbeing and ethical conduct.

With this knowledge at your disposal, you can take proactive measures to overhaul interfaces and restructure user journeys, amplifying transparency and curtailing manipulative tactics.


“It’s worth highlighting that following the initial publication of this article, The Treasury, under the Australian Government’s authority, has released a consultation paper titled “Protecting consumers from unfair trading practices.

Upon the paper’s announcement, Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones, emphasized the government’s focus on addressing deceptive tactics that cause confusion and frustration among Australians. He underscored that these unfair trading practices not only undermine healthy competition but also exert undue influence on consumer choices.

Stephen Jones also noted that, despite being misleading, many of these unscrupulous strategies currently elude regulation under existing consumer laws stating, “The Australian Government’s commitment to tackling these issues is evident through the release of this consultation paper, reflecting a broader effort to bring such practices under scrutiny and provide a more transparent and fairer marketplace for consumers.”

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