7 in 10 users of online travel platforms surveyed confirm that they have experienced dark patterns like hidden charges, false urgency and price manipulations based on their search patterns
- ● 73% of respondents indicated they have frequently experienced surge in air fares/ hotel room tariffs after multiple searches
- ● 74% of travel apps/sites users surveyed indicating that they have faced situations of what appeared to be a false sense of urgency
- ● 67% of consumers surveyed say they have experienced hidden charges associated with flight ticket/hotel booking during the final payment stage
December 13, 2023, New Delhi: India has banned use of “dark patterns”, intended to deceive or manipulate customers’ choices, on e-commerce platforms. The final guidelines issued by the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) earlier this month follow the notification of the department of consumer affairs in September, when draft guidelines for the prevention and regulation of dark patterns were released for public consultation.
Besides misleading consumers, Dark Patterns also refer to the practice of manipulating their decision-making through misleading advertisements, creating unnecessary fear among them to continue a subscription or product purchase, among other things. As CCPA said in a notification, dark patterns amount to misleading advertisement or unfair trade practice or violation of consumer rights.
The final guidelines for prevention and regulation of dark patterns are applicable to all advertisers, sellers and platforms selling goods and services in India. The government has identified 13 types of dark patterns which include false urgency, basket sneaking, confirm shaming, forced action, subscription trap, interface interference, bait and switch, drip pricing, disguised advertisement, and nagging. The latest list also has trick questions, SaaS (software as a service) billing and rogue malwares identified as dark patterns.
Over the next 3 months, LocalCircles will be conducting a dark patterns review of 100 platforms in India and sector level surveys to understand as many dark pattern issues experienced by consumers. In this series, it has picked the online travel platforms as the first sector, given the high volume of consumer complaints. Some of the most commonly reported issues include, price manipulation based on user’s search pattern and eagerness to book, hidden costs and exhibiting false urgency. Given the Government’s dark patterns guidelines, LocalCircles conducted a survey to find out where consumers experienced them when booking travel or hotel via online platforms. The survey received over 33,000 responses from consumers located in 323 districts of India. 63% respondents were men while 37% respondents were women. 47% respondents were from tier 1, 33% from tier 2 and 20% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts.
Nearly 3 in 4 of those using travel apps/sites have experienced fare/ tariff surges very frequently
One of the issues that consumers have frequently reported on the LocalCircles platform is change in air fares and hotel room tariffs within a few minutes while they are still searching their flights or hotels. Some consumers have defined it as almost as if fares and tariffs are changing based on the number of searches or their eagerness to book. The first poll in the survey focused on this issue and asked consumers, “How often have you experienced with travel apps/ sites that the airfares/ hotel room tariffs have increased while you searched for it multiple times in a session?” This query received 11,001 responses with 73% of respondents who use travel apps/sites indicating that they have “very frequently” experienced surge in air fares/ hotel room tariffs after multiple searches, while 20% indicated that it happened “sometimes” in their case. Only 5% of the respondents indicated that such surges happened “rarely” and 2% opted for “can’t say”. In sum, nearly 3 in 4 of those using travel apps/sites have experienced fare/ tariff surges within the same browsing session very frequently.
74% of travel apps/sites users surveyed indicated that they have faced situations of what appeared false sense of urgency “frequently”
As in the case of special sales online, many other businesses use the tactics of pressurizing consumers stating that there is limited supply available or the sale is ending as soon as stocks are running out. The survey sought inputs from respondents about instances of false urgency. It asked, “How often have you experienced with travel apps/sites that a false sense of urgency (example: last 2 seats or 2 rooms available at this price) is created to get you to book faster?” This query received 11,071 responses with 74% of travel apps/sites users surveyed indicating that they have faced situations of what appeared to be a false sense of urgency “frequently” and 16% stating “sometimes”. In addition, 6% indicated “never” and 4% did not give a clear response. To sum up, 74% of consumers surveyed who use travel apps/sites say they have frequently experienced being presented with a false sense of urgency to get them to book faster.
67% consumers surveyed say they have frequently experienced hidden charges associated with flight ticket/hotel booking that are not disclosed upfront
Whether travel or hotel bookings, when finalizing at the payment stage, the consumers are suddenly confronted with charges and options that substantially add to the final cost of the ticket which were not displayed upfront. The survey asked respondents, “How often have you experienced with travel apps/sites that there are hidden charges (other than taxes) that are associated with flight ticket/hotel room bookings which are not presented upfront but only later when you are making the payment?” Out of 11,579 consumers who responded to the query 67% of consumers indicated “very frequently”; 15% indicated “sometimes”; and 4% indicated “rarely”. In addition, 7% of respondents indicated “never” have they experienced such a trend when using travel apps/sites while 7% of respondents did not give a clear reply opting for “can’t say”. To sum up, 67% of consumers surveyed who use travel apps/sites say they have frequently experienced hidden charges associated with flight ticket/hotel booking that are disclosed upfront but only when they are at the last step of making payment. The data shows that 82% of those surveyed have noticed this trend frequently or sometimes.
To summarize, around 3 in 4 consumers using travel apps/sites have very frequently experienced surge in air fares/ hotel room tariffs after multiple searches in a session or faced pressure of booking fast when presented with a false sense of urgency. The survey also reveals that 74% of travel apps/sites users have faced situations of what appeared to be a false sense of urgency “frequently”. There is also the issue of hidden charges that add up considerably to the total costs when booking a hotel room or travel ticket. The survey shows that 82% of those surveyed have noticed this trend frequently or sometimes. The Government has prohibited usage of “dark patterns” via the new guidelines, but the real test will be in its enforcement and if the CCPA takes suo moto actions against those violating. LocalCircles will share the findings of this survey with policy makers so that both the Government and the platforms understand dark patterns experienced by consumers and work to make platforms dark pattern free soon.
The survey received over 33,000 responses from consumers located in 323 districts of India. 63% respondents were men while 37% respondents were women. 47% respondents were from tier 1, 33% from tier 2 and 20% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts. The survey was conducted via LocalCircles platform and all participants were validated citizens who had to be registered with LocalCircles to participate in this survey.