Turn your pets into their profit

4 minute read

I needed to order cat food last week and went to my usual site: petcircle.com

And I made my order and paid the cash. Then an email confirmation turned up. It said I’d setup an auto-delivery in their system.

Let’s see how this happened. Because I sure as hell don’t need 12kg of cat food once a month. I own a cat, not a panther.


Hang on? What?!

Add to cart

Here’s a sample page:


Example product page

Two things are of note here:

  • The page defaults to auto delivery, and blue shading looks like it’s only a highlight, not a selection.

  • The Once Only price is bold and directly above the Add to Cart button.

Result: the visitor assumes Once Only is selected.

Confirmation with selections already made

Here’s what you get when you click Add to cart:


Let's make it hard to see what's going on, shall we?

There’s a dark pattern and hard sell on this message.

The dark pattern is the ticked checkbox for Dry Food.

It’s a dark pattern because it’s a deliberate deception.

First, I didn’t add a second item to my cart.

Second, if I click the checkbox, I’d expect it to be unticked.

I don’t expect to be taken to another part of the site!

In a real life situation, here’s what this is:

You’re walking to the till to pay for your item. An employee walks up and asks if you’re interested in another item. You say “No thanks”, but the employee grabs you by the arm and drags you to the items anyway.

The hard sell is here:


Fear Of Missing Out

This is a shortage-based hard sell, that capitalizes on the human fear of missing out on something beneficial.

The psychology of selling and how to resist it

Have you ever gotten an invitation to a "free" lunch, where the only qualification is that you sit through a "brief"...


It’s the same tactic the Adobe sales rep tried with me last week - a time-limited offer that could benefit me, but ONLY if I take it immediately WITHOUT THINKING ABOUT IT.

Moving on…

The shopping cart and how to turn off an auto-delivery

Here’s the shopping cart for the above selected item.


Auto delivery? Say what?

So I’ve ended up with an auto-delivery after all.

Okay, how to I convert this? And what’s a “group”?

The group field lists delivery intervals.


No thank you?

Nothing to cancel here at all.

But if you look in the Group field for the item, you can find a Single Order option.


No thank you?

Now, a Petcircle representative did point this out to me. However, it’s still a dark pattern. Why?

Because what the hell has a Group to do with a Delivery?

It’s a dark pattern because the way to stop a repeating delivery is obscured by a meaningless term.

Oh, and adding insult to injury, there’s a repeated hard sell in the shopping cart.

Subtle? Not.

Dark patterns aren’t illegal…

…but IMO, they bloody should be.

They exploit and manipulate people and are downright unethical. People who shop with a company are penalized, and shopping is made more difficult than it has to be.

There is a short-term gain to the business, but in the long-term, there are many, many other websites out there, some of whom don’t do this.

But in the interests of being helpful, here’s how Pet Circle can improve their design:

Fix the item page

  • Default to “Order Once”

  • Put whitespace separation between the two ordering options and the Add to Cart row.

  • Add a subtotal and which delivery option is selected to the Add to Cart row.

Fix the confirmation page

  • Remove the hard sell, and reserve it for subscribers only so they at least have the chance to Opt-in or Opt-out.

  • Remove the other advertising.

  • Remember it’s a confirmation NOT an excuse to advertise more stuff at the customer.

Fix the shopping cart page

  • Abandon “Delivery Group” terminology in favour of clearer descriptions. The fact Delivery Group One needs a popup explanation implies it’s confusing.

  • Add a Toggle button to the cart as a whole: Order Once only / Auto delivery.

  • Click Auto delivery to enable a drop-field with the weekly delivery options. This converts ALL items into Auto delivery

  • Click Order Once only in the shopping cart to convert ALL items into Order Once Only.

Fix shopping cart items

  • Add the same toggle button to each item. Auto delivery enables a drop-field with the weekly delivery options.

  • Click Order Once only to convert the item to a one-time purchase

  • Click Auto Delivery to enable the drop field, which the user can select for a delivery interval.

In conclusion (the TL;DR)

Pet Circle has lost my business because of this behaviour. I had the same problem alost a year ago, the last time I ordered cat food and had to contact them to convert the order to once only.

I let them know the issues then, and nothing has changed.

It’s just a pity the web designers chose (or were directed) to use this kind of trickery on the website.