Amazon fined in Europe for screwing shoppers with underhand dark patterns

E-commerce titan to appeal sanction amounting to three hours of annual profit

Poland's competition and consumer protection watchdog has fined Amazon's European subsidiary around $8 million (31.9 million Zlotys) for "dark patterns" that messed around internet shoppers.

The preliminary ruling applies to Amazon EU SARL, which oversees Amazon's Polish e-commerce site,, out of Luxembourg. Poland's Office of Competition and Consumer Protection said the decision, subject to appeal, reflected misleading practices related to product availability, delivery dates, and drop-off time guarantees.

According to the ruling, Amazon's Polish operation repeatedly canceled customer orders for e-book readers and other gear. The online souk believed it was within its rights to do so because it considers its sales contract and delivery obligations are active only after an item has shipped, rather than when the customer purchases it.

But these abrupt cancellations left punters who thought they'd successfully paid for stuff and were awaiting delivery disappointed, sparking complaints to the watchdog, which has seemingly upheld the claims.

Not only that, the regulator was unimpressed that the language on Amazon's website warning this could happen is difficult to read – "it is written in gray font on a white background, at the very bottom of the page."

What netizens instead see are phrases that indicate they're entering into a contract to buy an item, such as "Buy Now" and "Proceed to Checkout." And this language suggests that a commitment has been made, the agency contends. As such, people were right to be upset when these commitments were broken by the technology goliath whenever it canceled their orders for whatever reason.

"The average consumer is entitled to assume that the purchase options, availability and delivery times offered by traders are not misleading," said the agency's chairman Tomasz Chróstny in a statement. "The consumer should not be forced to take additional steps to check the reliability of the functionality offered or the information presented."

The regulator also characterized Amazon's use of countdown timers as a "dark pattern" – a deceptive or misleading graphic or text element within a software application or website. It's said that Amazon presented customers with timers and product availability counters to push them to complete a purchase before time or supply ran out, and then sometimes failed to fulfill orders.

"Information about the availability of a product and its fast shipping is very valuable for consumers and for many people it can be the main reason why they make a purchase decision," said Chróstny.

"However, such information must not be a decoy. If a trader gives a specific delivery date, they must meet it. This practice by Amazon is categorized as ‘dark patterns’, as it uses pressure to make the consumer order the product as soon as possible."

Amazon is currently facing allegations that it relies on dark patterns for its US operations. Last June, the US Federal Trade Commission sued Amazon alleging it used manipulative interface design to dupe customers into automatically renewing their Prime memberships. That case, along with a broader antitrust claim, continue to be litigated.

Asked to comment, Amazon's PR flacks acknowledged occasional delivery lapses but said the biz had improved its local customer experience and intends to challenge the fine.

"Since launching in 2021, we have continuously invested and worked hard to provide customers with a clear, reliable delivery promise at check out, and while the vast majority of our deliveries arrive on time, customers can contact us in the rare event that they experience a delay or order cancellation, and we will make it right," a spokesperson told The Register.

"Over the last year, we have collaborated with the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection, and proposed multiple voluntary amendments to continue to improve the customer experience on We strictly follow legal standards in all countries where we operate and we strongly disagree with the assessment and penalty issued. We will appeal this decision."

In 2023, Amazon recorded profits of $30.4 billion, or around $3.5 million an hour, every hour for a whole year. As such the Polish judgment is an accounting blip, but one the Seattle souk intends to fight. ®

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