Research that facilitates safe and sustainable online shopping2022-04-20
What barriers do consumers face on the digital market place, and how can these be counteracted? In a project with the Swedish Consumer Agency, researchers at CTF, Service Research Center at Karlstad University, have examined this issue. The research findings are now used in an information campaign directed at consumers.
In 2020, the Swedish Consumer Agency was tasked by the Swedish Government to identify and analyse barriers to well-functioning consumer markets and sustainable consumption. Part of the assignment was to identify pros and cons with different types of measures to combat these barriers.
– Consumers often face barriers and challenges, so-called dark patterns, when they shop online, says Erik Wästlund, Associate Professor of Psychology. Dark patterns could simply be described as deceptive web design and methods to deceive consumers and manipulate them into making purchases they did not plan to.
Based on a model for behavioural change, Erik Wästlund and his colleague Agnieszka Kitkowska have identified, analysed and mapped out dark patterns. The aim is to gain more knowledge about them and how they can be avoided – knowledge that can be used to inform and help consumers.
A specific area that the researchers have examined is terms and conditions.
– We know that few consumers pay any attention to these and that most people approve the terms without even reading them. This means that relevant and important information is often missed, says Erik Wästlund.
The research results are compiled in the report "Barriers to a well-functioning digital market – effects of visual design and information disclosures on consumer detriment", and has been presented in various forms, both by the researchers and by the Swedish Consumer Agency.
– In addition to information about barriers, the report also contain examples of measures that could be taken in order to ensure a well-functioning market. The research is of interest to both legislators and regulatory authorities, and can be used to inform consumers, consumer organisations and businesses. It also works as a foundation for future research and continued development in the field, says Erik Wästlund.
The Swedish Consumer Agency is now running an information campaign in order to spread the results further and to inform consumers. Erik Wästlund participates in an online video about dark patterns.