Amazon is making it easier for European Prime members to cancel their subscriptions following complaints from consumer groups. Now members in the region can unsubscribe from Amazon Prime in just two clicks that start with a clearly marked “cancel button,” the European Commission said in a statement.
The changes immediately apply to all E.U. Amazon websites accessed through desktop computers, mobile devices and tablets.
“Customer transparency and trust are top priorities for us,” an Amazon spokesperson told Sourcing Journal. “By design we make it clear and simple for customers to both sign up for or cancel their Prime membership. We continually listen to feedback and look for ways to improve the customer experience, as we are doing here following constructive dialogue with the European Commission.”
This change was necessary to comply with E.U. rules on consumer protection and the unfair commercial practices directive. The directive is designed to enhance consumer confidence and make it easier for European businesses, especially SMBs, to trade across borders. It is the overarching E.U. legislation regulating unfair commercial practices that occur before, during and after a business-to-consumer transaction has taken place.
Amazon first made changes to the cancellation process after the initial dialogue with the European Commission in 2021, labeling the cancel button more clearly and reducing the explanatory text seen after clicking through. This text will be further shortened so consumers won’t get distracted by warnings and deterred from cancelling.
Always under the microscope for its business practices, workplace safety and its use of third-party seller data, Amazon has also been dealing with questions on its use of consumer data in Europe, where companies have to operate under strict GDPR regulations to protect data privacy.
The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), the Norwegian Consumer Council and the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue took their grievances to the European Commission in April last year. They complained that consumers who wanted to unsubscribe from Amazon Prime had to deal with complicated navigation menus, skewed wording and confusing choices, as well as repeated nudging to stay with the service.
“Opting for an online subscriptions can be very handy for consumers as it is often a very straightforward process, but the reverse action of unsubscribing should be just as easy,” Didier Reynders, European Commissioner for Justice, said in a statement. “Consumers must be able to exercise their rights without any pressure from platforms. One thing is clear: manipulative design or ‘dark patterns’ must be banned. I welcome Amazon’s commitment to simplify their practices to allow consumers to unsubscribe freely and easily.”
The Norwegian Consumer Council’s complaint, a 30-page document titled “You Can Log Out, But You Can Never Leave,” made these “dark patterns” a central point of contention. Dark patterns are defined as features of interface design that push or nudge people into making choices for the benefit of the service provider, often at the cost of the individual’s money, time and/or privacy.
“Nudges and dark patterns work by exploiting pre-existing cognitive biases in consumers and are, therefore, often fundamentally manipulative,” the report said. “Such cognitive biases may include choosing small, short-term rewards instead of larger, long-term benefits, or the tendency to choose the path of least resistance.”
The complaint detailed the Prime unsubscribe process, counting eight times mobile users would have to click through a new button to cancel their membership. During that process, they have to scroll through at least three sets of potentially distracting buttons and prompts before clicking to the next step.
“The number of clicks necessary to find the unsubscribe settings mean that there is little chance that anyone would start the process by mistake,” the report said. “Despite this, Amazon warns the user throughout the process of the consequences of unsubscribing, while simultaneously offering a prominent way out of the process at every turn, a total of five times. This use of misdirection may serve to confuse or wear out the user and seems designed to foster uncertainty about the decision to unsubscribe due to fear of losing something important, or because the user simply does not understand the process.”
Both the Commission and national authorities will continue to monitor the implementation of Amazon’s commitments to align with E.U. consumer law, the governing body said.
Amazon had already been in hot water with the European Commission for other reasons, as well as individual European markets like the U.K., Italy and Spain, for potential antitrust violations. In 2020, the Commission accused Amazon of pushing its own products to gain an unfair advantage over rival merchants that sell on its online platform. It also opened an investigation into Amazon’s possible preferential treatment of its own retail offerings and those of marketplace sellers that use its logistics and delivery services.
As such, the tech titan has allegedly said it would offer third-party sellers access to some marketplace data, while also conceding that its commercial business would not be able to use the seller data collected by its retail unit.
Additionally, the company also reportedly said it would create a second buy box for rival products in the event an Amazon product appears in the first buy box.
The potential concessions come as Amazon faces a potential fine that could amount to 10 percent of total global annual sales. The investigation is expected to close by the end of 2022.