Amazon has intentionally placed a maze of prompts and steps that make it more difficult for users to cancel their Prime subscriptions.
Internal documents show the company’s plan – codenamed “Iliad Flow” – reduced cancellations by 14 percent at its peak of success in 2017.
The schedule includes four pages of deals, offers, “Remind me later” snooze alarms, and other confusing distractions aimed at making people reconsider downgrading their accounts.
But Amazon not only plotted to deceive its customers, it also hid those plans from federal investigators, according to a new lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed Wednesday.
The FTC claims in its lawsuit that in order to unsubscribe from Prime, a customer must click through five pages on the desktop and six pages on the mobile app (pictured)
The FTC filed a federal lawsuit against Amazon on Wednesday over its difficult process to cancel a Prime subscription. Chairperson Lina Khan is photographed at her confirmation hearing in 2021
Among other violations, the FTC accused Amazon in its complaint failure to hand over ‘Ilias’ documents in response to those of the committee civil enquiry (CID), a type of subpoena for legal entities.
Following a Business Insider exposé on “Iliad Flow” published in March 2022, the FTC said its investigators “quickly learned that Amazon had failed to disclose many of the now-leaked documents and information to the Commission.”
Amazon did this, the FTC complaint claims, “despite the fact that at least some of it responded to the outstanding CID,” issued a year earlier on March 16, 2021.
So, here’s how ‘Iliad Flow’ worked and what Amazon put in place to slow the flow of Prime membership cancellations.
First, the option to “cancel membership” was buried in the “manage membership” tab, which would then take a Prime subscriber through a series of prompts, deals, and offers.
Iliad’s first guess was to remind users of the Prime streaming benefits.
“Don’t give up on movie night,” Amazon’s first prompt read, reminding Prime members of items on their watchlist and the days left until their next billing cycle.
On the next page, Amazon reminded users how much money they could save by switching from a monthly Prime membership to an annual subscription.
The next prompt lets users know how much money they would save by switching from a monthly to an annual payment plan.
Iliad’s first guess was to remind users of the Prime streaming benefits. ‘Don’t give up on movie night’ Amazon’s first prompt reads, reminding Prime members of items on their watchlist and days left until their next billing cycle
The next prompt lets users know how much money they would save by switching from monthly to annual payments. It also offers a way to sync Prime with EBT welfare payments
Iliad Flow’s final prompt asks Prime members to confirm their cancellation through a menu of five options. The first three options promise to pause their membership, keep their membership, or “be reminded later” of their desire to leave Prime
In fact, since February 2022, when Amazon increased their rates on both Prime models unevenly, the savings difference between an annual and monthly membership has increased from $37 to $41.
Iliad Flow’s final prompt asks Prime members to confirm their cancellation through a menu of five options.
The first three options promise to pause their membership, keep their membership, or “be reminded later” of their desire to leave Prime.
The last two buttons, closer to the bottom of the page, finally give a Prime member the option to pause or cancel their membership altogether.
Prime membership costs $139 a year and offers customers free next-day delivery and access to Amazon’s streaming services
“Appropriately,” the FTC wrote in their civil complaint, “Amazon named that process ‘Iliad,’ which refers to Homer’s epic of the long, arduous Trojan War.”
Citing the leaked documents, regulators accused Amazon execs of “delaying or rejecting user experience changes that would have made Iliad simpler for consumers because those changes negatively impacted Amazon’s bottom line.”
Amazon Prime Vice President Jamil Ghani said in a statement that ‘transparency and customer trust are top priorities’ for the company.
“Through our design, we make it clear and simple for customers to sign up for or cancel their Prime membership,” said Ghani. “We continuously listen to customer feedback and look for ways to improve the customer experience.”
Ghani, along with Amazon executives Neil Lindsay and Russell Grandinetti, were explicitly named in the FTC complaint as executives who “delayed or rejected” suggestions for user interface improvements for Prime members.
But there was one manipulative tactic that over time—even within Amazon—was considered unthinkable: Giving customers buttons and menu options designed to embarrass or bully them into signing up for more services.
Not too long ago, Amazon’s prompts to regular customers presented them with a passive-aggressive offer for a free trial of Prime, where the option to say “No” came via a menu button that read “No thanks, I don’t want to FREE Two-Day Shipping.’
That option to decline now comes as a straightforward “No, thanks,” but only because executives within the company ultimately believed the tactic led to bad PR for Amazon.
“There is a well-established external trend (negatively perceived) called ‘customer shame’,” according to an internal email, obtained by Business Insider‘and in some cases we are even mentioned specifically.’