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Yes, it seems Amazon did make it deliberately difficult to cancel Prime

Amazon stands accused of making it difficult to cancel your Prime membership
(Image credit: Amazon)

A new investigation has shown that cancelling your Amazon Prime subscription is getting more and more difficult – and it seems to be deliberate.

Documents shared internally at Amazon detail a so-called ‘Project Iliad’ – an attempt to curtail the number of users cancelling their Amazon Prime memberships and thus retain a healthier Prime-based revenue stream and customer base.

According to documents obtained by Business Insider (opens in new tab), Project Iliad spanned years and introduced several steps to complicate the Amazon Prime cancellation process, which proved successful to the extent that cancellations were down 14 per cent in 2017.

Amazon Prime's multi-step cancellation process has led to complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and some consumer-interest bodies. In a January 2021 report, the Norwegian Consumer Council (opens in new tab) stated, "Throughout the process, Amazon manipulates users through wording and graphic design, making the process needlessly difficult and frustrating to understand.

“Companies such as Amazon seem to speculate that they can discourage customers from cancelling their subscriptions either by heavily emphasising the benefits that will be lost upon cancellation or by making the process so complicated that its users simply give up.”

Of course, if you're happy to stay subscribed, Amazon Prime remains a compelling service – its combination of free shipping on selected purchases, access to Prime Video and Music Unlimited content, digital reading options, cloud storage and other perks is competitive for its $139 / £79 / AU$59 annual fee.

That said, subscription services should never make it more confusing and time-consuming to get a handle on your budget, and here Amazon stands accused of using ‘dark patterns’ in its Prime cancellation process. 

How are these so-called dark patterns defined? Allow the Norwegian Consumer Council: “Dark patterns, or manipulative design, are features of user interface design that nudge or push consumers into making choices that are in the best interest of the service provider, rather than in the interest of the consumer,” the council explains, adding, “this may include that certain options are easier to choose than others, that consumers are tricked into giving consent to sharing personal data, and many other practices.”

Amazon Prime's vice president, Jamil Ghani, fiercely contends the criticism directed at the company. "Customer transparency and trust are top priorities for us," he said in a statement given to Business Insider, adding, "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."

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Becky has been a full-time staff writer at What Hi-Fi? since March 2019. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, she freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 20-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance is of course tethered to a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo, This is Cabaret and The Stage. When not writing, she dances, spins in the air, drinks coffee, watches football or surfs in Cornwall with her other half – a football writer whose talent knows no bounds. 

  • lovlid
    ‘Companies such as Amazon’
    As a ,,ahem,, journalist, do you not think, in the interest of fair and unbiased reporting, that you could mention these other companies.
    Obviously Amazon is not the only company to do this, as you well know. Probably the worst and most terrifying company to do this is Sky. A company who you give five stars to, in your often updated, thrice yearly, glowing reviews, but never mention the agonising trial that ensues when trying to downgrade their services, never mind cancelling them.
    Reply