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Difficult by design?

At Which?, our purpose is to make consumers as powerful as the organisations they deal with in their daily lives. 

We know that some organisations sometimes go out of their way to try to exploit consumers. That’s why Which?, the largest independent consumer organisation in the UK, and the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), an organisation founded by the government to apply behavioural economics and psychology to improve policy and services, are looking into practices known as ‘sludge’. 

The phrase ‘sludge’ describes systems and processes that businesses use to make choosing and buying products and services more difficult than they need to be. Sludge can mean you lose money, privacy, time and even experience emotional distress. 

Some sludge builds up over time. An organisation might not have kept pace with technology or use words and phrases that are outdated. Other sludge is there by design and is meant to take advantage of our behavioural biases (for instance, doing what is convenient) and help make more money for the business. 

Many businesses are already well versed in the art of ‘sludge’ by design. For example: 

  • An airline may advertise a cheap flight, but by the time you get through to pay there are so many hidden extra costs that it’s now not cheap at all.
     
  • A social media platform or app provider might make it difficult for you to find out what data you’re sharing or how to make changes, so you give up trying to make changes to your account settings.
     
  • Insurers’ T&Cs for travel or pet insurance might be so complicated that you can’t really understand what’s included or if you’re comparing like with like. 

In the past year, have you gone through a consumer process that felt like you were wading through treacle? Have you been surprised by how difficult something has been for you? Have you felt like the process wasn’t designed with the consumer in mind? If so, we want to hear from you.

We’d like to hear about the range of sludge you’ve experienced across sectors, and are particularly interested in the sludge you’ve experienced in the following areas: 

  • Changing your privacy settings on social media and other digital apps
  • Your experience of buying and claiming on insurance 
  • Whether you’ve found buying flights or getting a hire car has cost more than you thought because of unclear or hidden fees 

We are also interested in any other form of sludge in any other sector you have experienced.

Your input will inform our work on tackling the sludge that consumers face in their day-to-day lives. To let us know your experiences, just click here to complete our short online survey by 29 March 2020. An anonymised copy of your experiences will also be shared with the Behavioural Insights Team. Anything you tell us will be treated in confidence and is covered by our privacy policy. We will delete all submissions after one year.