Signing up for a new service has become almost second nature these days. From the time you visit the website to the final “complete your purchase” button, the whole process usually takes a matter of minutes. Before you know it, you’ve got a flock of monthly expenses in exchange for services like curated boxes delivered to your doorstep, unlimited movie tickets, or state-of-the-art workouts in your basement.
But as easy as it is to join, canceling these services can be a whole different story. The common financial advice offered to millennials looking to cut down expenses is to cancel subscriptions. If you’re spending money every month for something you don’t need, this is sound advice, but it can be easier said than done.
Jumping Through Hoops
If you’ve ever tried to cancel a subscription or membership, you’ve probably either found it was simple, or you felt like you were jumping through countless hoops. On one hand, Netflix and Amazon make canceling as easy as clicking a button and confirming.
On the other hand, some companies require an email, phone calls, or (gasp!) a written letter. You may even find it’s impossible to cancel because you’re locked in for a certain period. For example, Regal Unlimited has an inconspicuous one-year non-cancellation period for its new movie pass offering, and Equinox has a similar rule for its new gym members. In my experience, ClassPass makes you chat with a customer service representative that might threaten you with a reactivation fee if you choose to cancel. According to Reddit users, The New York Times has been known to question your moral integrity over the phone if you attempt to cancel, before offering you 50% off the next six months of your membership if you stay.
These roadblocks have become so infamous that there are even services to help you cancel your services. Truebill has guides for canceling subscriptions with hundreds of companies – they’ll even do it for you in some cases. According to Yahya Mokhtarzada, co-founder and CRO of Truebill, “when companies really believe in their product and value a long-term relationship with their customers, they tend to have more customer-friendly cancellation terms and processes … On the other hand, when companies aren’t as confident in the value of their product, they often try to increase customer retention by throwing up roadblocks to cancellation.”
Beyond financial exigency, consumers can be morally or politically motivated to cancel. When a company makes a mistake, consumers can be quick to boycott it by canceling their memberships and encouraging others to do the same. Just last week, #CancelNYT and #CancelEquinox trended on Twitter as the New York Times faced backlash for a controversial headline and the Equinox chairman’s political involvement.
So what happens if you morally oppose a company and want to cancel a subscription, but find it isn’t as easy as firing off a reactionary tweet? Matt Singley, CEO of Singley Content Studios, tweeted that he would “call Equinox today” to cancel his membership after hearing about how the company’s owner Stephen Ross was hosting a fundraiser for Trump. He had been a member of the luxury gym for two years.
But Singley said the cancellation process has been “difficult” – it wasn’t even possible to call and cancel as he had originally planned. If you’re outside of the one-year non-cancellation period, Equinox requires a written letter, email, or a visit to the local branch to cancel. Singley chose to email for convenience and out of respect to the “wonderful, nice people” that work at his local club. “I’m sure they had a lot to deal with that day so I didn’t want to add to their burden.”
I have been a member of @Equinox for years. I have just sent in my request to cancel because the Chairman is hosting a fundraiser for Tr*mp. I would assume they share ideologies.
— Matt Singley (@mattsingley) August 7, 2019
Immediately after sending his first email, Singley received an auto-response that Equinox was dealing with “extremely high volumes of emails and a response time of up to 96 business hours.”
“I give then a little bit of leniency in that it obviously became a national story, but that said, it shouldn’t be as difficult as it is. I own an advertising agency and our clients are extremely large corporations. And I know for an absolute fact that the technology has existed for a very long time to unsubscribe online … The companies are funneling you in by allowing you to sign up online but not allowing you to cancel online. They’re making it difficult on purpose,” Singley said.
In 2018, California lawmakers took steps to make canceling your subscriptions easier. They passed a bill requiring that “a consumer who accepts an automatic renewal or continuous service offer online shall be allowed to terminate the automatic renewal or continuous service exclusively online.” Mokhtarzada said “This is a big step in the right direction, and I think as the entire subscription ecosystem matures, we’ll see more of this.” The law, however, still allows for email cancellation, such as Equinox’s.
Which brings into question what exactly counts as “convenient” in the age of the internet. Certainly in-person and snail mail communication can be ruled out, but are phone calls and emails really so outdated that they should be outlawed? Equinox’s struggle to keep up with its emails highlights the technology’s shortcomings. Phone calls give a company the opportunity to actually talk to a customer, but it’s easy for wait times to get long. According to a spokesperson from the New York Times, the company saw “higher volume of cancellations than is typical” earlier this week when the outcry over the headline started.
If you’re desperate to cancel, “your bank is on your side. If you’re having an issue with a subscription billing you, talk to your bank, explain the situation, and more than likely they can help,” Mokhtarzada said. “At the end of the day, it’s your choice who you support with your money.”
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