You may have noticed the recent BBC News item “EU bans pre-ticked website boxes to aid consumers” which was featured on the SitePoint podcast. The new legislation aims to eliminate hidden charges and costs. European websites will no longer be able to helpfully include extras such as insurance which customers have to actively decline. The rules will also cover registration for services such as email promotions.
It’s a shame legislation has been required to stamp out the practice. The opt-in vs opt-out debate has been raging for many years — longer than the web’s been around. Yet:
pre-checked opt-in boxes are dumb.
Who are marketers trying to fool? Are they making their systems easier for users? At best, they’re hoping that you — their customer — is so enamored with a product or service you’ll actively want to opt-in and a pre-checked box saves you a click. But, if you’re truly impressed, wouldn’t you be happy to spare a few milliseconds clicking a box?
Unfortunately, in most cases, pre-checked boxes treat users as imbeciles. The company is hoping you fail to notice the small print so you’ll pay more money or receive promotional materials.
We then see the dubious practice of attempting to trick users with bad metaphors:
tick here to opt-out
or worse, those which use indecipherable language:
untick this box if you don’t want to opt-out of our newsletter
Finally, many forms will re-check opt-in boxes when you make a mistake during the initial submit.
If you’re indulging in this type of practice you’re simply giving customers bad service. They’ve either paid more than they expected or they’re now receiving unwanted spam from your company. It’s not a great start to any customer relationship. Perhaps it will lead to minimal short-term gains but repeat purchases and recommendations are far less likely. Unless your business model is wildly different to others, it’ll put your long-term reputation and prospects at risk.
Companies often forget that people have become wise to the tricks. Many customers expect to be hit with hidden charges or dubious marketing techniques. If you don’t do it, you’re already one step ahead of your competitors.
Customers are people and everyone appreciates openness and honesty:
- Use clear and concise language.
- Give them your best price.
- Inform them about options but don’t assume they’re required.
- Provide opt-out information for those who choose to opt-in.
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It’s not difficult. Yet I suspect we’ll still be discussing deceitful marketing activities for many years to come. Perhaps it’s time to name and shame the worst examples we find?
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.