Project Iliad: Amazon used a sneaky tactic to make it harder to quit Prime and cancellations dropped 14%, according to leaked data

An Amazon employee walks by an Amazon Prime delivery truck in the company's premises in Brandizzo, near Turin, March 22, 2021
An Amazon employee walks by a Prime delivery truck in Brandizzo, Italy, near Turin, in March 2021.

  • Amazon intentionally made it harder to cancel Prime memberships with a project code-named “Iliad.” 
  • The project created multiple layers of questions and new offers before a user could cancel Prime.
  • After the program launched, cancellations dropped by 14% in 2017, internal documents show.

The FTC sued Amazon on Wednesday, alleging the company made it more difficult for consumers to cancel Prime subscriptions. 

Amazon intentionally drew out the process of canceling a Prime membership under a project code-named “Iliad,” according to internal documents obtained by Insider

The project created multiple layers of questions and new offers before a Prime member could cancel their subscription in hopes of reducing member churn. After the project’s launch, the number of Prime cancellations dropped by 14% at one point in 2017 as fewer members navigated to the final cancellation page, one of the documents said. 

The multistep cancellation process — a version of which remains active — is just one example of subtle user-experience design choices Amazon has used to complicate or confuse Prime’s subscription and cancellation processes. 

In recent years, multiple complaints have been filed with the Federal Trade Commission asking for an investigation into Amazon Prime’s cancellation process and its use of so-called “dark patterns.”

“Throughout the process, Amazon manipulates users through wording and graphic design, making the process needlessly difficult and frustrating to understand,” the Norwegian Consumer Council said in describing its findings in January 2021.

In an email to Insider, an Amazon spokesperson said the sign-up and cancellation processes for Prime are “simple and transparent and clearly present customers with choices and the implications of those choices.”

“Customer transparency and trust are top priorities for us,” Jamil Ghani, vice president of Amazon Prime, said in a statement. “By design, we make it clear and simple for customers to both sign up for or cancel their Prime membership. We continually listen to customer feedback and look for ways to improve the customer experience.”

What it takes to cancel an Amazon Prime subscription today

While the multistep process isn’t quite as hard to complete as the 500-page ancient Greek epic poem of Project Iliad’s namesake, canceling a Prime subscription does take multiple clicks, decisions, and confirmations. 

The “end membership” button can be found under the “manage membership” tab, which then leads to a series of prompts and offers. 

The first prompt says “don’t give up on movie night” and flags to users how many days are left until the next billing cycle. 

Amazon mobile app screenshot
A screenshot of the Amazon mobile app.

The next prompt lets users know how much money they would save by switching from a monthly to an annual payment plan. Starting February 18, Amazon’s annual Prime membership fee increased from $119 to $139, and the monthly fees increased from $13 to $15.

Amazon mobile app screenshot
A screenshot of the Amazon mobile app.

The last prompt asks users to confirm the cancellation of their membership. The first three yellow buttons on the page offer to pause or keep the membership or be reminded later. 

Farther down the page are two final yellow buttons listing options to cancel or pause the membership. 

Amazon mobile app screenshot
A screenshot of the Amazon mobile app.

Editor’s note: This story from March 2022 has been updated to include the FTC’s lawsuit against Amazon. 

Read the original article on Business Insider


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