Poland imposes fine on Amazon for deceptive dark design tactics

Amazon has been fined in Poland for misleading consumers about the conclusion of sales contracts on its online marketplace. For Amazon, the conclusion of a sales contract only occurs once it has sent information about the actual shipment. “Thus, Amazon misleads consumers as to the moment of conclusion of the sales contract,” the authority wrote [in Polish; this is a machine translation]. It also found the e-commerce giant failed to provide information about the “Delivery Guarantee” in the purchase confirmation sent to shoppers. Amazon was contacted for comment on the sanction but at the time of writing it had not responded.

The e-commerce giant Amazon has found itself in hot water in Poland, facing a hefty fine for its deceptive sales practices. The country’s consumer watchdog, the UOKiK, opened an investigation in February of 2023 after receiving complaints from shoppers, including those who never received their purchases.

After months of probing, the UOKiK has fined Amazon close to $8M (roughly PLN 31,850,141) for misleading consumers and using deceptive design elements on its online marketplace. These tactics create a false sense of urgency and mislead shoppers about product availability and delivery dates.

“Amazon misleads consumers as to the moment of conclusion of the sales contract,” the authority stated in a press release. “For many people, this can also have negative consequences.”

The UOKiK discovered that Amazon does not consider a purchase to be a conclusion of a sales contract, despite sending consumers confirmation of their order and receiving payment. Rather, the tech giant only considers the sales contract to be finalized once they provide information about the shipment.

  • Amazon failed to clearly communicate this detail to consumers, only providing it “at the last stage of purchase.”
  • The information was sometimes “difficult” to access, using a grey font on a white background or displaying it at the very bottom of a page.
  • This dark pattern design is in stark contrast to the suggestive messaging used on sales buttons, which read “Buy now” or “Proceed to finalize the purchase,” implying that the shopper is concluding a contract with Amazon.

“Thus, Amazon misleads consumers as to the moment of conclusion of the sales contract,” the authority wrote in a statement. “For many people, this can also have negative consequences: The consumer does not receive the product, so he cannot use it, he loses the opportunity to buy at an attractive price that may no longer apply, and his money is frozen until he returns it.”

The UOKiK also received complaints about Amazon’s lack of information regarding how to cancel an order and the process being unnecessarily complicated. In one instance, a consumer had to wait a month to receive information about cancelling an eBook reader order.

“If the entrepreneur provides a specific delivery date, he or she must meet it. This practice by Amazon is classified as so-called dark patterns because it uses pressure to make the consumer order the product as soon as possible,” commented Tomasz Chróstny, the president of the UOKiK.

The UOKiK’s investigation also found that Amazon uses deceptive design to encourage shoppers to click “buy” by providing misleading information about product availability and delivery windows. This includes displaying the number of items in stock and a countdown clock for ordering in order to receive the item on a specific delivery date. However, the authority discovered that Amazon does not always meet these deadlines or ship products immediately as they may be out of stock, despite claims to the contrary shown to consumers.

  • Amazon only treats the data on availability and shipping as “indicative,” but the way it is presented does not reflect this reality.
  • Consumers can only find out about the actual rules and terms of sale on the platform.

The UOKiK also found that Amazon failed to provide consumers with information about its “Delivery Guarantee” before they placed an order. This service offers a refund if items do not ship within a specific time frame. However, the details are only provided at the order summary stage and only for consumers who choose to read the subsequent links. The majority of shoppers who do not follow these links may not have been aware of their right to a refund if there was a delay in shipment.

In addition, the e-commerce giant did not include information about the “Delivery Guarantee” in purchase confirmations sent to shoppers.

Amazon has the option to appeal the fine, but as of writing, it has not responded to the UOKiK’s decision.

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Zara Khan

Zara Khan is a seasoned investigative journalist with a focus on social justice issues. She has won numerous awards for her groundbreaking reporting and has a reputation for fearlessly exposing wrongdoing.

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