NOTE This is an unedited archive post. Links, images and opinions may be broken.

Subscription Suspicion


Subscriptions have always been difficult to cancel, but I had a couple services take it to a new level recently. Put on your tin foil hats, it's conspiracy time!

I wanted to cancel two things in January: My Adobe Creative Cloud plan, which I don't use enough for the cost, and Amazon Prime, the reasons for cancellation being a much longer story than I can fit in this already-too-long sentence.

Back in November, I logged into both sites and found nice Cancel Subscription buttons. But I found that I had several more months left of my yearly sub on both, so I decided to finish out the year. I set a reminder in my calendar a week before they would both auto-renew and I would re-evaluate then.

That reminder came up for Adobe first. Still wanting it gone, I logged in to cancel my subscription but the nice button was gone. Weird. I googled it, and found the instructions and they still said to use the button that was missing. Where the button should have been they had a generic "payment error" message. Odd. I checked my credit card statement. All payments had gone through successfully. I dug through the site to find the live chat, and after a rather annoying 30 minute process of them hanging up on me once, and having to log out and re-login in a different browser to get a new chat session, and then telling them no, no, no to all their non-cancellation related questions, it was cancelled.

Okay, that's weird. It was a bad chat experience, and I could fault them for that, but perhaps they had some issue with their system and that was the reason for the missing button. No matter, my subscription was cancelled now. I moved on with my life.

A week later, Cancel Amazon Prime came up in my calendar. I logged into my Amazon account, went to Manage Prime Membership and, wouldn't you know, they were also having a technical error!

This time, my consumer-abuse senses went off. (I'd be a terrible superhero.) I took this screenshot:

[caption id="attachment_1625" align="alignleft" width="720"] How very generic of you, error![/caption]

Okay, so I could come back later. But no, no, no, this felt like a trick designed to get some number of people to think they'll come back later and then totally forget about it or decide to keep Prime if they're on the fence about cancelling it. Who needs the hassle, amirite? It's only $79/year!

Again I found the support chat, and to Amazon's credit their support team cancelled it right away, no problems or pointless questions or hard-sell retention techniques.

I have no proof, but...

So what's going on here? I suspect they're intentionally "breaking" the unsubscribe links for certain people at certain times. They can't have them broken for everyone all the time because that would get noticed and cause too much burden on support for legitimate cancellations. But they can put up a general "payment" or "technical" error for certain people some of the time and no one would really notice.

Which means there's probably someone somewhere whose job it is to figure out the best time to show those fake errors to get the most benefit out of the fewest errors shown. You don't want people to catch on and, besides, they can cancel any other time of the year and there's always support. There're no regulations (that I know of) that govern how you have to offer subscription cancellation methods.

Maybe they only show it to heavy users right before the re-sub window. That would be a subset likely to be on the fence and forget about cancellation after encountering a small barrier. I did use Prime quite a bit, and Photoshop, while I didn't use it much, was left open almost all the time.

So is this an okay and clever way to reduce churn? After all, people like me who really want to cancel will jump over more hoops to get it done. Or is it going too far to keep customers inside? Or is it just a complete coincidence that I experienced this twice on different services at the same time?

If you have an experience on either side of this issue, please do leave a comment on some other website.