‘Iliad Flow’ Amazon’s sneaky scheme to make it harder to quit Prime halted cancellations


Amazon has intentionally put up a maze of prompts and steps that make it harder for users to cancel their Prime subscriptions.

Internal documents show the company’s scheme – codenamed ‘Iliad Flow’ – reduced cancelations by 14 percent at the height of its success in 2017.

The scheme involves four pages of deals, offers, ‘Remind Me Later’ snooze alarms, and other confounding distractions aimed at making people reconsider downgrading their accounts. 

But Amazon not only plotted to trick its customers, it hid those schemes from federal investigators, according to a new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lawsuit filed Wednesday. 

The FTC alleges in its suit that in order for a customer to unsubscribe from Prime, consumers must click through five pages on the desktop and six pages on the mobile app (pictured)

The FTC alleges in its suit that in order for a customer to unsubscribe from Prime, consumers must click through five pages on the desktop and six pages on the mobile app (pictured)

The FTC on Wednesday filed a federal suit against Amazon for its difficult process to cancel a Prime subscription. Chairwoman Lina Khan is pictured at her confirmation hearing in 2021

The FTC on Wednesday filed a federal suit against Amazon for its difficult process to cancel a Prime subscription. Chairwoman Lina Khan is pictured at her confirmation hearing in 2021

Among other violations, the FTC has accused Amazon in its complaint of failing to hand over ‘Iliad’ documents in response to the commission’s civil investigative demand (CID), a kind of subpoena for corporate entities. 

Following a Business Insider expose on ‘Iliad Flow’ published in March 2022, the FTC said its investigators ‘quickly ascertained that Amazon had failed to disclose much of the now-leaked documents and information to the Commission.’

Amazon did this, the FTC complaint contends, ‘despite the fact that at least some of it was responsive to the outstanding CID,’ issued a year earlier on March 16, 2021.

So, here’s how ‘Iliad Flow’ worked and what Amazon put in place to throttle the flow of Prime membership cancellations.

First the option to ‘end membership’ was buried inside the ‘manage membership’ tab, which then would lead a Prime subscriber through a battery of prompts, deals and offers.

Iliad’s first gambit was to remind users of the Prime streaming benefits.  

‘Don’t give up on movie night’ Amazon’s first prompt read, reminding Prime members of items on their watchlist, and the days remaining until their next billing cycle.

On the next page, Amazon reminded users just how much money they could save by switching from a monthly Prime membership to an annual plan.    

The next prompt lets users know how much money they would save by switching from a monthly to an annual payment plan. 

Iliad's first gambit was to remind users of the Prime streaming benefits. 'Don't give up on movie night' Amazon's first prompt read, reminding Prime members of items on their watchlist, and the days remaining until their next billing cycle

Iliad’s first gambit was to remind users of the Prime streaming benefits. ‘Don’t give up on movie night’ Amazon’s first prompt read, reminding Prime members of items on their watchlist, and the days remaining until their next billing cycle

The next prompt lets users know how much money they would save by switching from monthly to annual payments. It also offers a way to sync Prime with EBT welfare payments

The next prompt lets users know how much money they would save by switching from monthly to annual payments. It also offers a way to sync Prime with EBT welfare payments

Iliad Flow's last prompt asks that Prime members confirm their cancellation from a menu of five options. The first three options promise to pause their membership, keep their membership or 'be reminded later' about their desire to quit Prime

Iliad Flow’s last prompt asks that Prime members confirm their cancellation from a menu of five options. The first three options promise to pause their membership, keep their membership or ‘be reminded later’ about their desire to quit Prime

Since February 2022, when Amazon raised their rates on both Prime models unequally, the savings differential between an annual and a monthly memberships has actually expanded from $37 to $41.

Iliad Flow’s last prompt asks that Prime members confirm their cancellation from a menu of five options.

The first three options promise to pause their membership, keep their membership or ‘be reminded later’ about their desire to quit Prime. 

The final two buttons, closer to the bottom of the page, finally offers a Prime member the opportunity to either pause or fully cancel their membership.  

Prime membership costs $139 a year, and provides customers with free next-day delivery and access to Amazon's streaming services

Prime membership costs $139 a year, and provides customers with free next-day delivery and access to Amazon’s streaming services

‘Fittingly,’ as the FTC wrote in their civil complaint, ‘Amazon named that process ‘Iliad,’ which refers to Homer’s epic about the long, arduous Trojan War.’

Citing the leaked documents, regulators accused Amazon execs of having ‘slowed or rejected user experience changes that would have made Iliad simpler for consumers because those changes adversely affected Amazon’s bottom line.’

The vice president of Amazon Prime, Jamil Ghani, said in a statement that ‘customer transparency and trust are top priorities’ for the company.

‘By design, we make it clear and simple for customers to both sign up for or cancel their Prime membership,’ Ghani said. ‘We continually listen to customer feedback and look for ways to improve the customer experience.’

Ghani, alongside Amazon executives Neil Lindsay and Russell Grandinetti, were explicitly named in the FTC complaint as executives who ‘slowed or rejected’ suggested improvements to the user interface for Prime members.

But there was one manipulative tactic that, over time, came to be viewed — even inside Amazon — as beyond the pale: giving customers buttons and menu options meant to embarrass or bully them into signing-up for more services.

Not too long ago, Amazon’s prompts to ordinary customers presented them with a passive-aggressive offer for a free trial of Prime, where the option to say ‘No’ came via a menu button saying ‘No Thanks, I don’t want FREE Two-Day Shipping.’ 

That option to decline now comes as a straight-forward ‘No thanks’ but only because executives inside the company were finally persuaded that the tactic was leading to bad PR for Amazon. 

‘There is a well established external trend (negatively perceived) called ‘customer shaming,” according to one internal email, obtained by Business Insider, ‘and we’re even specifically called out in some cases.’  



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