It Shouldn't Be a Nightmare of Canceling an Online Subscription

It Shouldn't Be a Nightmare of Canceling an Online Subscription ...

By making it outrageously difficult to cancel a subscription, online services must stop trying to intimidate customers.

Our wife and I decided to try a restaurant. The idea sounded fantastic: You open the box, maybe you slice an onion or a potato or something, and combine all of the ingredients in a pan, and in about 30 minutes you'll have a family dinner.

We thought it would be a fantastic solution to our nightly "what should we do for dinner" conversation, given our busy schedules. Most importantly, the food was excellent, and it really was super easy to make, but ultimately it wasn't for us, so we decided to cancel the service. The process should be quite straightforward, right?


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Canceling the service sounded more convoluted and uninteresting than trying to navigate your way through a bunch of mirrors. I was enticed through one of the most outrageous cancellation funnels I've ever seen, including surveys, guilt trips, big green buttons, encouraging me to stay on board, and tiny gray cancellation confirmation links that I had to scroll seemingly endlessly to find.

After a 15-minute ordeal, I finally got back on track to cancel the subscription until the next day, when my wife received an email informing her that our next delivery was being prepared and that we might be charged for it imminently. As it turned out, there was a final little gray link I had to click on, hidden away at the bottom of one of the pages. Even after confirming our freedom, we were subjected to a swath of emails we urged to resume.

The cancellation process took two days to complete. It was confusing, difficult, and unlawful. It was by design. It's a common practice that too many internet providers are employing today. It's just one of many examples of what has become known online as a a tactic that attempts to infiltrate users into taking certain actions and it must stop.

Canceling should be as simple as signing up.

It doesn't have to be too difficult to cancel a subscription. The customer experience would improve, and these online services might gain a better reputation if their offboarding procedures didn't utilize these tactics. Everyone might be better off.

Companies should be focused on being transparent and building a sense of trust. The language throughout the cancellation process should be non-judgmental, and it should clarify what the customer can expect from the moment on, including how their data will be processed, how they can export their data, and how they can sign back up in the future if necessary.

This is the ethical way to do it, and it's how some companies, like Basecamp, and their online collaboration, operate. Companies that follow this journey demonstrate that canceling a subscription does not have to be a nightmare, and the experience can be quite as enjoyable as signing up, and thus, improving trust with other people.

Too many services have admittedly identified that the dishonest approach is the best way to keep customers safe.

Welcome to the roach motel.

I get it, businesses are dissatisfied with their resources to expand their service, and they want to see a return on those efforts. The idea of losing customers keeps business owners awake at night, so they take whatever measures they think is necessary to retain so many users as quickly as possible.

Too many online businesses are relying on something called to trick customers into sticking around. Dark patterns are thought to be intended to inspire people to do what they want rather than what they want. For example, failing to select the final cancellation confirmation because it's hidden somewhere at the bottom of the page.

Not just the small-time players who are using these techniques. Have you ever tried it? Great luck with discovering how to do it, and effectively without having to lose all of your hair. Have you ever requested your New York Times subscription? As long as you wait for a live chat representative to do it for you, be sure to get it started.

This type of dark pattern is sometimes described as a roach motel, an art that makes it straightforward to sign up for a service but unusually difficult to cancel it. The cancellation funnel is typically a multi-step process that involves deliberately confusing language and confusing navigation buttons. Companies may also include cancellation buttons that say things like "I don't care about losing premium features," or "I don't like saving money," for good measure. Then, the customer will often have to call a phone number or send an email to complete

I get a quick survey to help you understand the reason for a cancellation, or perhaps a quick reminder of some of the service's main benefits. However, too often the process is deliberately convoluted and includes elements of deliberate deception.

Similar techniques have become such a big problem that state and federal regulators have been involved, and class action lawsuits have been filed in cases where businesses have crossed a legal line.

ABCmouse, a children's online learning platform, claimed in its stub that the company "required consumers to discover and navigate a lengthy and confusing cancellation path that often discouraged consumers from canceling and, in many instances, resulted in consumers being charged again without their consent."

Noom, a popular weight loss app, claims to have misrepresented and failed to "accurately disclose the true characteristics of its trial period, its automatic enrollment policy, and the actual steps it must take to avoid a 14-day trial and avoid automatic enrollment." Noom provided no phone number, no email address, and no way for customers to cancel their trials through its app or website, except through a chat bot.

Despite all of the complaints, lawsuits, and settlements, companies continue to employ roach motel tricks to trap their customers. However, the more you know about these tactics, the easier it is to escape.

Understanding dark patterns is the key to avoiding them.

However, unless companies realize the negative consequences of their deceptiveness, or when lawsuits begin making an impact, we'll continue to see companies using dark patterns to make it difficult for us to cancel our online subscriptions. For now, the best thing you can do is know that these practices exist and do your best not to fall into their traps. Always get them hooked on your subscription. Find something else.

When it's time to cancel, you should know what to look for: multi-step cancellation procedures that might probably ask you to email, call, or both to finalize the cancellation. Don't stop until you receive a message confirming that your subscription has been canceled.

Perhaps, if my wife and I had to go to ridiculous lengths to help us stay on board, we'd have given it a second chance in the future. However, because the service was so difficult to cancel, I'm not going back to it or recommending it to others. In the meantime, we have already entered a different online meal kit service. It's very probable that this time will be different, and they won't make us jump through 36 different hoops if or when we decide to cancel.

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