Apr 18

Intuit's Turbotax UX Dark Pattern

I'll admit it up front — I'm a tax procrastinator.

I always wait to file until the last weekend before they're due. I've done it this way for nearly 10 years now, and since I end up owing money it somehow feels better to put off paying the federal government.

For nearly that same amount of time I've been a huge fan of Intuit's TurboTax. It's simple, always improving, and just gets the job done. Each year the interface seems to get better, more slick, and more helpful. I've never had a complaint with it.

That being said, it seems as if over the last couple of years Intuit has been using their user experience skills in questionable ways — mostly near the end of the process. I remember this trend starting with their "Audit Defense" package for around $49.99, which was always easy to decline. Then came the additional fees if you wanted to receive a refund electronically, or via a Visa gift card. I'm sure both of those options snagged quite a few taxpayers, but I always deftly was able to avoid it.

This year though — this year they got me.

Somewhere along the line they signed me up for "QuickBooks Self-Employed"; a $4.99 monthly charge that I couldn't avoid.

Intuit's sneaky Quickbooks Self-Employed Tax Grab

It took me awhile to realize what was going on. I clicked through screen-by-screen, looking to see where I could remove the charge. I found nothing. I called their (really friendly) tech support — who also couldn't assist. The representative I spoke with suggested that I either start over from scratch, or just proceed with the charge and try to remove it after the fact.

Of course when filing taxes, nobody wants to re-enter all that data. I did what I had to do; took my medicine and completed the transaction. Paid an additional $4.99, then was forced to login to QuickBooks Self-Employed and cancel the subscription.

As someone who designs and builds software, this really rubs me the wrong way. If I tried to sneak in a charge of this nature, my customers would crucify me. I'd be slammed on blogs, social media, email, and be fielding calls left and right.

Does Intuit get away with it, simply because they're the 800lb gorilla in the room?

They know customers of TurboTax are already paying the government big dollars, and already paying Intuit a good hundred or more; so what's the harm in sneaking in a little monthly charge? They hope people won't notice the additional fee, and know we're not going to throw away the hours spent entering data, even if the charge is discovered.

With the massive amount of people that use TurboTax, one has to wonder the amount of recurring revenue Intuit is generating with this UX dark pattern. How many people catch the monthly charge? How many people care?

I certainly do. Come on Intuit, you're better than that. QuickBooks Self Employed is a great product that customers would be happy to use. How about signing people up for a free trial that they can opt into keeping a month or two down the road?

Written by Seth Banks

Seth spends most of his days leading the design team at Green Bits and improving Cashboard. Occasionally he finds time to write about music, design, startups, and technology.

Tagged: saas, interface, design, business