Online fashion: How Shein, Amazon & Co. manipulate their customers

Joint research by the Fédération romande des consommateurs (FRC) and Public Eye shows the extent to which consumers from Switzerland are exposed to so-called "dark patterns" – intended to influence consumers decisions to purchase – when fashion-shopping online. Shein, Aliexpress et La Redoute are the worst offenders (9 to 18 dark patterns). The two associations demand that the 15 platforms reviewed renounce this digital manipulation which entices consumers to make more purchases – encouraging overconsumption – and to disclose personal data. They also request that the political authorities regulate these practices.

These dark patterns are visual techniques that are designed to influence or even to manipulate internet users by modifying their purchasing environment. The goal is to entice them to make more purchases and to divulge personal data. Among these fraudulent techniques are found pop-up windows featuring discount codes with a very short term, the unsolicited addition of articles in the shopping basket, accounts that are difficult or impossible to cancel online, and the unsolicited use of cookies on smartphones, PCs or tablets. 

Public Eye and the Fédération romande des consommateurs (FRC) wanted to find out to what extent online fashion consumers in Switzerland are exposed to these practices when buying clothes on the Internet. The 17 volunteers taking part in this investigation found examples of dark patterns in 15 online shops. The Chinese giant of ultra-fast fashion Shein is the undisputed leader, with 18 different kinds identified, followed by Aliexpress (12), Amazon (9) and La Redoute (8). While the online shops of Zara, Globus and Manor seem to use them less, H&M stands out, with six different kinds of dark patterns. 

Their marketing departments exploit the legal vacuum that exists in online shopping concerning the protection of consumers. “The implications in terms of respect of individual choice, protection of privacy and incitement to over-consume are very worrying,” insists Sophie Michaud Gigon, Secretary General of the FRC. This is why the two NGOs request that these platforms put a stop to any form of manipulation hidden in their website interfaces. 

The Federal Council and Parliament must urgently address this problem, and regulate an industry that hampers all the efforts being made to promote more responsible consumer behaviour. The authorities must also enforce current legislation by forbidding dark patterns that incite Internet shoppers to share an increasing amount of data, prevent consumers from deleting such data or cancelling their contract.  

Visuals to download here, more information here or at: 

Jean Busché, FRC’s head of Economy, +41 77 476 99 28 or +41 21 331 00 90, [email protected] 

Géraldine Viret, Public Eye’s spokesperson, tel +41 78 768 56 92, [email protected]