In 2004, US indie band They Might Be Giants released a song called, Renew My Subscription. The song has some dark lyrical undertones, but it has an upbeat, happy feel to it. Of course if you’re renewing a subscription to something you probably are happy about it.
Of course unsubscribing doesn’t mean you’re unhappy with product. It might be a simple matter of no longer needing or being able to afford it.
What is likely to make you unhappy is when the process of unsubscribing is not an easy one. Or, as many seem to find, one that is nigh on impossible.
Those of us over 50 having difficulty unsubscribing from a streaming or other service might put it down to a lack of know-how. “I’m no good with all this newfangled online stuff,” you might say to yourself. I know I have.
However, a few chats with those of a younger generation suggest to me there’s more to unsubscribing problems than that.
Why make unsubscribing easy?
Making the process of unsubscribing tricky might just convince a customer to abandon the attempt. The less cynical among us might be tempted to say, ‘Surely a respectable business wouldn’t adopt such a tactic.’
I agree – and that’s why many big businesses have lost my respect. Some of my own experiences have led to this, but I know that, sadly, they are not uncommon ones.
Anecdotally, many Foxtel customers have met hurdles in attempts to unsubscribe. One customer said they circumvented the system by ‘cheating’ the phone menu. The customer discovered wait times if you selected the ‘change your subscription’ option, rather than ‘cancel’.
Some might say that’s good business. It may well be. But it’s certainly not good service or citizenship.
Cancelling a subscription online, doesn’t seem to be any easier. Take the case of Ruby Callaghan, for example. Ms Callaghan signed up to a $7/month Amazon Prime subscription in 2021. A year later, the price had more than tripled. That was too high a price for Ms Callaghan and she unsubscribed – or at least she thought she had.
What followed was a tale of frustration and woe. Despite an online notification declaring her account to be no longer active, Ms Callaghan continued to be charged $22 monthly. Such was the difficulty Ms Callaghan had in stopping the monthly debit, she was forced to cancel her bank card.
It was not until ABC news contacted Amazon that Ms Callaghan was offered a refund. The amount offered was $280. The ABC did not provide details of the offer, but a refund of $280 for a $22/month subscription suggest a year-long battle.
The negative PR generated for Amazon by Ms Callaghan’s story might have a brief effect on the company. But brief it will be, and almost certainly negligible. This is a company that had “sales worth half a trillion US dollars last year”. A $280 refund isn’t going to put a dent in profits generated from such sales amounts.
In a way, that’s exactly the attitude many corporate behemoths want their customers to take. If they place barriers to unsubscribing but the subscription amount is small, what will most customers do? Many will think, ‘Well that’s bloody annoying,’ but will also say to themselves ,’It’s only $10/month’, and leave it there.
It’s easy to leave $5 here or $10 there. Multiply those numbers by 12, though, and that’s $60 or $120. Then multiply that figure by the number of customers companies like Amazon have.
Turning the tables
Ruby Callaghan’s fightback against unscrupulous tactics is highly commendable. But what are the Australian authorities doing to help?
The answer to that, it seems, is lagging behind their European counterparts. So says Erin Turner, the CEO of the Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC). Ms Turner investigated Amazon’s subscription practices in Australia, finding practices that are deemed unfair in the EU well entrenched here.
Ms Turner was highly critical of Amazon. “You typically can sign up in one click, and until recently, Amazon Australia had a multi-step, hard-to-find process to stop paying them money. Amazon has been treating its customers as cash cows.
Amazon has recently made changes to the unsubscribing process. “We updated the Prime cancellation process recently in Australia. The updates are consistent with those made in Europe during 2022, and the US earlier this year,” a spokesperson said.
That change is to Amazon’s credit, but it’s come only after leaving many customers with unwanted debits.
Have you had difficulty when unsubscribing? What were the challenges or barriers you met? Let us know via the comments section below.