Amazon used a sneaky tactic to make it harder to quit Prime and cancellations dropped 14%, according to leaked data

From Insider:

Amazon intentionally drew out the process of canceling a Prime membership under a project code-named “Iliad,” according to internal documents obtained by Insider.

The project created multiple layers of questions and new offers before a Prime member could cancel their subscription in hopes of reducing member churn. After the project’s launch, the number of Prime cancellations dropped by 14% at one point in 2017 as fewer members navigated to the final cancellation page, one of the documents said.

The multistep cancellation process — a version of which remains active — is just one example of subtle user-experience design choices Amazon has used to complicate or confuse Prime’s subscription and cancellation processes.

In recent years, multiple complaints have been filed with the Federal Trade Commission asking for an investigation into Amazon Prime’s cancellation process and its use of so-called “dark patterns.”

“Throughout the process, Amazon manipulates users through wording and graphic design, making the process needlessly difficult and frustrating to understand,” the Norwegian Consumer Council said in describing its findings in January 2021.

In an email to Insider, an Amazon spokesperson said the sign-up and cancellation processes for Prime are “simple and transparent and clearly present customers with choices and the implications of those choices.”

“Customer transparency and trust are top priorities for us,” Jamil Ghani, vice president of Amazon Prime, said in a statement. “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.”

. . . .

The “end membership” button can be found under the “manage membership” tab, which then leads to a series of prompts and offers.

The first prompt says “don’t give up on movie night” and flags to users how many days are left until the next billing cycle.

The next prompt lets users know how much money they would save by switching from a monthly to an annual payment plan. Starting February 18, Amazon’s annual Prime membership fee increased from $119 to $139, and the monthly fees increased from $13 to $15.

The last prompt asks users to confirm the cancellation of their membership. The first three yellow buttons on the page offer to pause or keep the membership or be reminded later.

Farther down the page are two final yellow buttons listing options to cancel or pause the membership.

Link to the rest at Insider

PG failed to see any “dark patterns” in the OP description.

Are there really a lot of timid souls who couldn’t possibly get through that process? Maybe, they’ll have to call Mommy and Daddy for help.

The OP mentions the ancient Greek Illiad as being similarly difficult. PG wonders whether the author has actually read the Illiad.

PG read the Illiad when he was still in high school. St. John’s College (original campus in Annapolis and, more recently a second campus in Santa Fe) includes the following on its website:

Greek life has a different meaning at St. John’s. Freshmen begin their classical studies with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, before diving into the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, the comedies and tragedies of Aristophanes, Sophocles, and the philosophy of Heraclitus, Plato, and Aristotle. Students go from tackling the elements of ancient Greek grammar and exploring the ways it differs from English, to reflecting on the relation of thought to language and translating Plato’s Meno. Attic Greek can be daunting, but tutors and language assistants are ready to help.

For the record, PG didn’t read the Illiad in Attic Greek.

22 thoughts on “Amazon used a sneaky tactic to make it harder to quit Prime and cancellations dropped 14%, according to leaked data”

  1. Are there really a lot of timid souls who couldn’t possibly get through that process? Maybe, they’ll have to call Mommy and Daddy for help.

    Sure. Look at the zillions who are so deficient they can’t get a photo ID.

  2. “PG failed to see any “dark patterns” in the OP description.”

    As a thought experiment, consider the reaction were it Random House doing this.

  3. A few thoughts come to mind:

    1- INSIDER is a Bezos company. He was an early investor going back to 2013. Some folks love to bite the hand that feeds them to signal virtue.

    2- Making cancellations an elaborate process is common. Not particularly fun but it is more “dog bites man” than “man bites dog”. If you don’t know this you really haven’t been “getting out much”. Most services have multiple pages asking what is wrong with the service, offering temporary bonuses, free months, etc. A lot of people actually go through the process repeatedly just to get the discounts.

    3- The real question is whether clicking on the right option actually cancels PRIME. A lot of services “forget” to actually cancel. And not small or fly-by-night scammers.

    4- Insider had to go to Norway to find fault with Amazon’s process? Are the complaints as common elsewhere? What kind of absolute numbers are we looking at? Might it be an issue with the local language, local website coder, local culture? Or even activists “stirring the pot”? Stranger things happen all the time. Amazon is not a well loved company by the establishment in many countries. Or states, cities in tbe US. No company or person can please everyone. Smart folks don’t try.

    5- The cancellation reduction data they use is from 2017? Hmm. Cherry picking? Amazon PRIME has changed a lot over the last five years. Especially in the video world. (See recent MGM buy.) Emmys, Oscars, more exclusives. And one-day shipping came in 2019. There subscriber base has grown immensely over those five years. And then there is the pandemic and the followup supply chain issues which Amazon forsaw and prepared for. Amazon is more useful today that in 2017. Would anybody expect the same cancellation rate today, regardless of process? Correlation is not causation. Show me a direct link, please.

    https://www.emarketer.com/chart/239414/us-amazon-prime-users-2017-2022-millions-change-of-digital-buyers

    6- Finally: Assume Amazon is evil. So what? Are they useful? Are there alternatives as useful?

    Caveat emptor is the default for educated consumers. There is such a thing as necessary evil.
    No business is your friend.
    The only question that matters in commerce is utility.
    If Amazon is useful you use it.
    If not, you don’t.
    Plenty of people don’t. After all, only 153M people subscribe to Prime in tbe US. Out of 330M.

    People vote their wallets more often than their ideology. That annoys some people. But most don’t care about ideology (or griping norwegians) when it comes to saving cash. Virtue is optional.

    • We discussed the increase in Prime cost briefly, but, as retired seniors with a pandemic going on, we use it so much that we can afford the membership in lieu of doing all that shopping ourselves. And that’s just the retail side.

      We grumble at some of the choices for, say, Prime videos, but have stopped even trying to bundle our purchases to save shipping costs – you never know where something will come from. Just knowing that we order, and it will appear sometime very soon with a very high probability, is good enough. If there is such a thing, we’re addicts.

      Even returns are easy. We don’t return much, but have the convenience of taking returns down to our front desk with their return labels slapped on from our printer, and it’s off the To Do list. Trackably.

      As a comparison, I charge a lot more than that for one hour of my time.

    • Just cancelled Amazon Prime before my trial period ended. It did require a few (3?) screens, but wasn’t too difficult, and Amazon sent an e-mail saying it was cancelled. (I just don’t use Prime benefits enough to make it worthwhile for me).

      You know what’s really annoying? Companies that make you call to cancel, instead of being able to do it online.

      • I watch Prime Video enough to justify the subscription. (The Expanse, the Boys, Invincible, etc, etc) and then there’s the monthly ebooks ($60-70 a year: those my mother uses), and of course, the free shipping, even of massive heavy objects. Useful.
        And they were extra useful early in the pandemic. Still are.

        They may be a devil but its a devil I know.

  4. Hope you didn’t read the Iliad in Attic Greek, since that’s not what it’s “written” (recorded, from oral-formulaic versions in various forms) in. Homeric Greek is an older version of the language, as if we were to read Chaucer in modern English vs the original Middle English. You can still read the older one with the knowledge of the younger version of the language, but it takes work and some assistance.

    One of my fondest memories of my collegiate Greek courses was my youngish wild-haired Homeric Greek professor (who sipped his coffee from a plastic replica of Nestor’s gold cup) arriving late one morning to class, all excited. He told us he had just discovered what the Greeks said when there was an outbreak of fire. “They didn’t say ‘puros, puros!’ [fire, fire!]. They said ‘hudor, hudor!’ [water, water!].” Needless to say, the class of half-a-dozen crack-of-dawn sleepy 18-year-olds laughed their heads off with him. [This same fellow orchestrated a taped reading of the death of Hector with his students taking on various parts, in the original language. We sipped retsina (the closest available thing to classical resined wine) the whole way, and a fun time was had by all.]

    Sorry to see Xenophon isn’t on your list. The Anabasis is a terrific read, in non-difficult Greek, full of adventures, comic portraits, and very memorable scenes. If you want to learn to actually read Classical (Attic) Greek for pleasure, that’s the book to start with. And if you never happen to have read it in translation, you’ve really missed a treat. Read the synopsis at the link.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anabasis_(Xenophon)

    • This is marvelous. Your teacher sounds like my art history teacher, who was all about the Greeks. To this day if someone says “hubris” I immediately think “sophrosyne.” He rounded out our textbooks with pictures of his journeys to Greece to see the Acropolis and the Porch of the Maidens, etc. This was also the teacher who showed us passages of Beowulf in Old English, and read a bit of it to us. He did the same with Chaucer; I was amused by the strange accent he took on just by reading those words as they were once written.

      I loved the Anabasis. This morning I realized to my horror that Xenophon’s Landmark Anabasis wasn’t in my Amazon cart along with the Landmark Thucydides, which I ordered and is coming today (I already have the ones for Herodotus and Caesar). I can still order the Anabasis, but still though! It’s not coming today! *Pout*. It’ll probably come tomorrow if I order it now, so this would be utility Felix mentions above. It’s why I will not be readily tempted to cancel Prime sans a better replacement.

      Unfortunately, I never did get the chance to learn ancient Greek. I can only imagine how much it would deepen my enjoyment of Homer if I did. Not to mention I would have a much better time choosing translations of his work, et al.

      • At Yale, in my day, just about all students (regardless of their pre-reqs) were forced into a required English survey course their freshman fall, either English Poetry or English Prose. Those of us who chose Poetry started with lab work (as in “language lab”) for Middle English for Chaucer (I would have voted for Beowulf or The Battle of Maldon poet and gone straight back to Old English) and were required to learn, as a foreign language, the opening stanza of The Canterbury Tales in its proper pronunciation (as best we know it), from audio tapes. This made a fairly indelible mark on a lot of my classmates.

        To this day, if you meet one or more Yalies of a certain age and start chanting the following, the stranger (and maybe his friends) is all too likely to be able to join you (with proper pronunciations) in:

        “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
        The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
        And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
        Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
        Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
        Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
        The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
        Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
        And smale foweles maken melodye,
        That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
        So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
        Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
        And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
        To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
        And specially, from every shires ende
        Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
        The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
        That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.”

        Good audio here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QS_SI0ppkMw

        [YouTube is littered with school classes reciting this haphazardly in unison, but the above (by contrast) is quite well done.]

  5. Ooh, before I clicked your link I started trying to read the poem aloud, and found myself rolling my Rs. I think I actually understood most of the poem; assuming Zephirus = Zephyrus. Then I felt vindicated when I clicked your link and the man was also rolling his Rs. His recitation was hypnotic, I loved the accent that emerged. Thanks for the link.

    ETA: Nesting fail, this was supposed to be a reply to Karen.

  6. Thanks for your comment, MPE.

    Perhaps the difference is that there are so many more legal matters on a per capita basis in the US than in Sweden where it appears, (at least to this 1/4 Swede Yank lawyer) that a higher percentage of the population is a bit more relaxed and sensible.

  7. Every time I get an offer for a month of Prime for next to nothing, I sign up, and every time I cancel when the month is up as slightly – very slightly – quicker delivery is the only benefit to me. I’ve done that umpteen times without difficulty. Unless it’s different for non-U.S. people, it’s hard to believe anyone has trouble doing it.

    • One big problem with the op is that it claims cancellations dropped 14%. From what? A milion a day? A hundred a year?
      And it dropped during a span when total subscriptions grew by 40%+.

      In tbe subscription business the proper metrics are retention *rate* and churn *rate*, especially tbe latter which describes the folks who sign up temporarily, go away and then *come back*.
      Because otherwise raw cancellation numbers might be double or triple counting the same people. This is particularly critical when it comes to people paying by month.

      (Sign up, buy a complete home theater system. And then cancel. Six months later, they return, order a new PC and monitor. Rinse and repeat. One month of Prime is going to be way less than the shipping cost of a big ticket item, to say nothing of the typical cost reduction. You don’t need to be a year-round subscriber to benefit from Prime. Or GamePass. Netflix. Or most any subscription service.)

      Which is a good (i.e., non-evil) reason to add an option to pause a subscription instead of cancelling it repeatedly.

  8. I went through the same process recently when I canceled my satellite radio subscription (because I don’t drive to work anymore). No big deal, it’s SOP these days.

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