I came across CouchSurfing while going through a travel blog. I had heard about CS earlier, and this reference acted as a re-enforcement to install the App. This is where I started on an acquisition flow, which was so cleverly designed to trap the users, that even in the hindsight it is improbable to spot this trick.
Let us go through the on-boarding flow for CS:
1. First screen post Sign Up:
So you land on the front page, trying to figure out the navigation. And the first thing that you notice is the “Get Verified” link. In the current ecosystem, majority of the sites follow following two ways of verification:
1. ID proof / Mobile Verification – This is done to confirm the identity. Most of the social networks have mandated this.
2. Payment Details – Sites like AirBNB asks you to confirm your payment method. This is done with sole purpose to safeguard the hosts.
So I did not wait to question the CTA and continued with the flow to get started quickly.
2. Farce of Verification Benefits
The verification page highlights the multiple “benefits” – Content bundled around a decent UI, with only a minor information missing – they actually forgot to mention that the verification is not FREE – of course one could argue that they never mentioned that it is FREE either. We shall come back to that.
Coming back to this page – It contains over 500 words, photos of verified members, “Testimonials” from the happy users, and logos of Forbes, Time, NYT and Guardian. A perfect setup you might say.
You can verify your account using either Credit Card or PayPal (Just getting this information as a safeguard, are we?)
I clicked on Credit Card and proceeded. Let’s see what happens now.
You land to the next page, not suspecting any foul play. Now look closely at this page. You might say that you can see the amount mentioned here – “Just Rs 3900 for life helps you meet the world” – Such a noble thought. But the objective of this design is to deceive the user.
– The text is intentionally kept vague, 3900 to meet the world. All the pricing principles asks the product owner to specify the payment details clearly on the checkout page. But these principles were made for ensuring good user experience. They do not make sense if you are concerned about creating false revenue channels.
– Notice the font color of the text? As light gray as could be. I wonder if they would have debated to keep the text color white – Why not go all the way?
– The bottom CTA says “Verify My Account”. If you explore other e-commerce sites, you will not find such a deceit elsewhere. All the sites says “Complete Payment” or “Pay Now”. Interestingly, CS says “Complete Payment” for iOS App. Reason – Apple is far stricter compared to Google in protecting users.
I, like many other users, was deceived. I entered the details and by the time I realized what was happening, I received an SMS from my bank. Another thing that got me here was absence of second factor authentication (company outside India – hence the false cover of security also played a part in the same).
CS can argue that they did mention the charge. But if they bring in this argument, they already lose. Victim blaming and hiding behing T&C has never helped any organization.
Once the first phase was over, I contacted both CS and my bank instantly (as I had no trust left in CS, even though they promised a full refund if requested within 72 hours). While I waited for them to respond, I checked for similar cases Online. No wonder Internet was full with similar complaints against CS. Here is a full list of the complaints: https://twitter.com/i/moments/900365776133206016
Apparently, CS did an AB experiment around Aug-2017, where they tried this new gold digging tool and it succeeded (obviously). The B users would have been more revenue generating, even after all the refunds (if honored). This is a perfect example of how not to run your business. I wonder how they intend to succeed, if they continue with this modern age scam.
I am reading stuff online to identify a way to escalate this (Not that this has not been done earlier, but one got to try). If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.