Is eBay Promoted Listings Advanced CPC Campaign Popup Predatory Dark Pattern Design?

Liz Morton
Liz Morton


As eBay faces pressure to grow Promoted Listings Advanced Cost Per Click ad revenue, are they resorting to predatory dark pattern practices to trick sellers into signing up?

That's what one seller believe after being hit for almost $900 in ad fees without even realizing they had signed up for a Promoted Listings Advanced Cost Per Click campaign.

The seller says they had just completed creating a Promoted Listings Standard campaign, which is the cost per sale advertising product eBay introduced in 2015, when they were presented with a never before seen popup screen in Seller Hub.

The popup starts with a confirmation in smaller text at the top saying their Promoted Listings Standard campaign had launched successfully and a big blue button in the bottom right that says "launch campaign."

For sellers quickly scanning this new and unfamiliar popup, it's understandable they may just click the blue button thinking that is what is needed to launch the Promoted Listings Standard campaign they had intended - but the reality is it creates a separate Promoted Listings Advanced Cost Per Click campaign in addition to the Standard one.

To make matters even worse, they appear to have designed this popup specifically to use their "Smart Promoted Listings Advanced" option, which allows eBay to automatically select which listings to include "based on historical performance" and also allows them to set the bidding and targeting for those items with no input from the seller.

The daily budget is set at a default that the seller can change, if they notice it, but they cannot set a maximum bid per item.

eBay even added an item that was still an active listing but had zero quantity, which means the seller could potentially be charged for clicks driving buyers to an item they couldn't even actually purchase, especially since eBay now considers clicking the heart icon to add an item to your watchlist as an attributable action that can incur ad fees.

Amazon was recently caught similarly charging advertising fees for items buyers couldn't purchase and is under pressure to refund sellers for the "mistake" after Bloomberg reported on the incident this week.

eBay buyers have also been subjected to similar practices with a new post-purchase "you might also like" popup ad.

eBay Post-Purchase “You Might Also Like” Pop Up Ads Increase Cancellations & Chargebacks
eBay buyers confused by new advertising ploy showing items “you might also like” in post-purchase pop up, increasing cancellations & chargebacks.

That popup occurs after completing checkout, suggesting another item eBay thinks the buyer might like with the immediate option to pay and complete an order for that item using the shipping and payment information that was just used for the previous purchase.


Several buyers who have encountered this popup say they saw the big blue button and thought it was just an extra step to confirm and pay for the item they were originally intending to purchase, not that they were agreeing to purchase another item.

This is particularly likely if eBay's recommendation engine selects a similar looking item to advertise in this spot, where the buyer may glance at the picture and not realize it's a different item.

And because this popup uses a 1 click checkout, the buyer is immediately charged after clicking that button, leaving no opportunity to back out of the transaction, which may be driving an increase in cancellation and return requests saying they did not order the additional item or chargebacks claiming unauthorized use of funds.

Dark design practices that can deceive or harm consumers often attract attention from government regulators like the FTC and once the regulators are involved, investor lawsuits may follow.

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Investor DM Cohen is suing Amazon, seeking records of possible breach of fiduciary duty & mismanagement regarding Prime membership dark patterns.

One such recent lawsuit against Amazon related to alleged dark patterns in Prime Membership signup and cancellation processes names multiple specific design elements or strategies, including these two which may be relevant to the way eBay has implemented these popups:

  • Interface Interference - “Interface Interference” is a design element that manipulates the user interface in ways that privilege certain specific information relative to other information.
  • Misdirection - “Misdirection” is a design element that focuses a consumer’s attention on one thing to distract from another.

CEO Jamie Iannone has made it clear that continuing to show Promoted Listings Advanced Cost Per Click Ad revenue growth is a top priority for the company and it's notable the testing of the popup that may "trick" sellers into starting Promoted Listings Advanced campaigns they didn't intend to seems to be ramping up in time to be counted in Q1 2024 financial reports.

Will eBay face similar regulatory, media and investor scrutiny for their increasingly questionable advertising and design practices?


Liz Morton Twitter Facebook LinkedIn

Liz Morton is a seasoned ecommerce pro with 17 years of online marketplace sales experience, providing commentary, analysis & news about eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Shopify & more at Value Added Resource!

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