Dark Patterns In Insurance Shopping UX

Gabriel Botelho2021-12-01

Some insurers pride themselves on a user-friendly and fast experience for buyers, but often use dark design to con users into overbuying coverage.

It's not a great sign when your industry is featured in the first sentence of a Wikipedia article with a title as ominous as "Dark Patterns". Although many insurers pride themselves on a user-friendly and fast experience for people, some make extensive use of dishonest design practices to confuse users into buying unnecessary coverage. They take advantage of consumers’ lack of knowledge, inexperience with behavioral heuristics, and the desire to generate a fast quote to trap consumers into a dark maze where they can’t help but get nickel and dimed out of their cash.

Wandering deeper into the maze, dark patterns are "a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying overpriced insurance with their purchase…"[0] Deceptive Design, a site created by designer Harry Brignull focused on tracking this malfeasance, lists twelve distinct types of dark patterns. But, to extract excess monies from consumers-- relative to what they'd pay on a more transparent and compassionately built site-- deceptive insurers lean on two patterns: "roach motels" and "price comparison prevention".

I’ve seen these patterns repeatedly because I've spent countless hours generating quotes for Coverage Cat's customers. Simultaneously, I've also navigated more transparent insurance comparison tools built to help brokers and their teams match customers to insurance. Using a tool that's not riddled with dark patterns makes it evident that some insurers use user-hostile design choices to induce consumers to overbuy coverage. Some sites are so bad that it is all but impossible to purchase a risk-optimal policy without extensive time-wasting exercises that would make even the most seasoned web-users throw their hands up in frustration and run (click) for the nearest checkout.

A user is lured into a "roach motel” when a hostile site makes them provide information upfront to determine the price and structure of the final insurance quote, but then restricts their ability to change that information. If a site waits to ask important questions until users have committed loads of personal information, cloaks risk concepts in jargon (e.g., "personal liability", "full coverage", "deductible", "premium"), and breaks browsers' back buttons it becomes all but impossible to reason about how inputs translates to price. The net result of this is that users end up paying for things they don’t need, or feel inadvertently committed to a specific purchase pathway that is not beneficial to them. 

Beyond the roach motels, patterns that prevent price comparison abound and keep users of sites from comparing prices both within policy options and across insurers. Inputs that can influence price, like deductibles and liability limits are pre-selected or require multiple unnecessary steps to be changed (e.g., clicking an "unlock" or "change" button instead of one-click accessible). The comparison is stark when you realize how easy malicious insurance sites make it to add expensive, but often unnecessary, coverage for extras like fine art, water backups (in higher floor apartments), and appliance breakdown coverage. 

None of this is to say you shouldn't buy insurance. Instead, you should buy the right insurance for your needs, a process facilitated by Coverage Cat. Protection for catastrophic events is still a "must-have" for most, and right-sized coverage can have tremendous upside even for products like renters insurance. So, signup for Coverage Cat today, and let us navigate the insurance maze for you.

[0] - quoted originally from an article by journalist David Neil with reference to how travel insurance is often sold


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