The group, led by Public Citizen, said Amazon was using “misleading” practices to trick consumers into reconsidering their decision to cancel Prime membership.
Consumer advocates are calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether Amazon is making it difficult for Prime members to cancel their subscriptions.
According to Bloomberg, the coalition – led by Public Citizen – wrote a letter to the federal agency late last week. In it, they suggested that Amazon configured the Prime cancellation process to “unfairly and misleadingly undermine the will of the consumer”. They said the FTC should take note of this as the arguably arduous Amazon Prime cancellation process could violate other federal laws.
Citizens and their allies seem to be inspired by the European Union. As Bloomberg notes, the Norwegian Consumer Protection Agency has also asked its own government to investigate Prime’s possible violations of domestic law and EU regulations.
However, Amazon contends that the steps to cancel a Prime membership are “clear and simple”. Prime members can, for example, end their membership by phone or through their account settings at Amazon.com.
Consumers who have chosen to forego their Prime privileges also receive relatively generous terms: they can end their Prime membership immediately and receive a refund for the unused term, or they can continue until the end of their billing cycle. Renewal would stop.
An Amazon warehouse. Photo by Scott Lewis via Flickr. CC BY 2.0
“The trust of our customers is at the core of all of our products and services, and we disagree with claims that our cancellation process creates uncertainty,” an Amazon spokesperson told Bloomberg in an email. “The information we provide in the online cancellation process gives a complete picture of the benefits and services that members cancel.”
In fact, on the surface, the process of canceling Prime doesn’t seem unusually complicated, difficult, or fraudulent.
Prime members considering cancellation can navigate to their account settings, select a Cancellation tab, and then scroll through multiple screens detailing the benefits of continued use before finalizing their decision.
However, Forbrukerrådet, Norway’s government-sponsored consumer protection agency, said Amazon has deliberately incorporated “dark patterns” or manipulative outlines into the cancellation process. In fact, Forbrukerrådet claims that Amazon is tricking Prime members into scrolling through multiple pages to raise doubts – and even adding hyperlinked buttons to keep consumers enrolled in the program.
Although many companies – including credit card services, cable companies, and telecommunications providers – are making it even more difficult for consumers to cancel subscriptions, Public Citizen means that as the nature of commerce changes, more Americans are being charged monthly fees.
“With an increasing number of online platforms becoming well known among consumers and a multitude of free trial subscriptions that lower the cost of entry, consumers are signing up for more services and the prospect of keeping an eye on every service, gets complicated. “The letter from the group says. “In short, it’s easy to sign up for services, but canceling subscriptions can be inherently challenging.”
Amazon is making it too hard to cancel Prime, groups say FTC
Consumer groups are calling on the FTC to investigate Amazon Prime’s headache-inducing cancellation process