Hidden Costs

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A hidden cost occurs when a user gets to the last step of the checkout process, only to discover some unexpected charges have appeared, e.g. delivery charges, tax, etc.

Example: 123-reg.co.uk hidden costs

Here's an example of hidden costs on the 123-reg.co.uk site when you try to upgrade your hosting package from "Starter" to "Plus".

On the first screen, you're presented with a list of options - the "Plus" plan looks quite reasonable at £3.75 per month.

A page displaying the upgrade options - the Plus plan is £3.75 per month

Now what happens when we click on the "Upgrade Today" button... The price is now £59.88 per year, which is £4.99 per month.

The price is now £59.88 per year - that's £4.99 per month!

On calling 123-reg's customer service team the call was escalated to the highest person in the call centre, who still wasn't able to explain why you cannot buy the hosting package at the advertised price. One of the the agents I spoke to suggested that this "might be VAT" - which if you do the maths is impossible.

At time of writing I'm awaiting a call from 123-reg's legal team to explain this.

Example: Hotels.com hidden costs

Note: The hotels.com example shown below was logged in August 2010 and is now out of date - they have since updated their UI and they are no longer employing the hidden costs dark pattern. (April 2011)

As you can see in the screengrab below (August 2010), hotels.com clearly states the prices of hotel rooms on search results pages.

Hotels.com search results: note the first item is priced at “per room per night £187″ (Screengrab taken Aug-2010, since superceded with improved design)

The screengrab above clearly shows the first item priced at “per room per night £187″. Let’s see what happens when I try to make that booking, below…

Hotels.com: note that additional costs have appeared. (Screengrab taken Aug-2010, since superceded with improved design)

Wow, I’ve been hit with over £50 of unexpected fees (see “extra guest charges”, “taxes” and “fees” in the right hand column). it’s not very easy to notice – in a hurry I’d probably just click through and pay regardless. It’s interesting to see Bob Diener, president of Hotels.com, quoted in the New York Times (2003): ‘Mr. Diener said it would not make sense for his site to show the final price first, “because consumers know there’ll be taxes added on. [...] When they’re ready to purchase, they’ll see the taxes anyway. [...] It’s very easy to see. It’s just another click away.”‘

Example: ticketmaster.com hidden costs (May 2010)

This was a popular story on digg.com (“screw you, ticketmaster!“), back in May 2010. Ticketmaster.com adds three different types of hidden charges when a user attempts to checkout (facility charge, convenience charge and order processing charge).

Screengrab of digg.com with comments. Image source: “Screw you Ticketmaster” via digg.com
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2012-10-05 / 10:43:14 UTC