April 2011

Volume 26 Number 04

Editor’s Note - Cancel This!

By Keith Ward | April 2011

Do you develop Web sites that actively push users away? “Of course not!” you respond. “What kind of addlepated fool would do that?”

Maybe, uh, you—if you do one or more of these things, either at the behest of your boss(es), or because you think it will help drive sales.

The thing that drove me away from a sports-related Web site last week was the simple act of trying to cancel my “premium content” subscription. So I logged in to my account and looked up Settings. I looked under my Subscriptions. I found my subscription.

Then I looked around for how to cancel it. Nada. There was a veritable buffet of tabs: Profiles, Messages, Groups, Blogs and more. I decided to click on Edit Profile. Sensible enough, right? My Profile should include information about my subscription, and a way to cancel.

El zippo—nothing useful there.

OK, where to next? Hmm, let’s try Member Services. Surprise—more links! They included yet another Profile section, among other goodies. I didn’t have any luck in the previous Profile section, so maybe this one had some deeper level of information, including how to cancel my account.

Nope. Disappointed yet again.

Aha! Account Information. That had to be it, especially as one of the categories was Payment Methods. It did have lots of account information, including Payment Methods, which listed some old credit cards and a new one. Yikes—I didn’t know that old information was still there, so I deactivated all my old cards.

I figured if I deactivated all my cards, my subscription would be automatically cancelled. But no: I couldn’t deactivate the current credit card. Because, of course, I needed some way to pay for the subscription I no longer wanted.

So, feeling a bit like Theseus, I wandered further into the labyrinth. I did searches on “cancel my subscription” and other phrases.

If you’re guessing that I didn’t find what I’m looking for, give yourself a one-handed clap.

Finally, I located a customer service number. Note that I didn’t find any number, link or written description of any kind that mentioned canceling a subscription or account; I just stumbled across a phone number.

I called. After a bit of shuffling around, I talked to someone who cancelled my subscription. Thinking that this was ridiculous, I asked if I missed something on the Web site—was there a way to cancel my subscription online that I didn’t see? Was I just dumb (always a possibility with me)?

“No,” said the friendly voice on the other side. “There’s no way to cancel your subscription on the Web site.”

I thought I must have misheard. So, you can sign up on the site—in fact, signing up and providing a credit-card number is as easy as taking a bite of cheesecake—but you can’t cancel in the same way?

That’s right, I was told. Then she tried to sell me on an even cheaper version of my subscription. How thoughtful of her.

To her credit, the lady was very professional and polite. So I responded, just as politely (I hope), to pass along my complaint about this sneaky, money-grubbing Web site and the company that produces it. She said she would.

And maybe she even did. Of course, I’m sure my complaint was placed in the “round file” equivalent of their e-mail system.

So, after a long while of clicking around in a vain effort to find a way to delete my subscription, I called a hard-to-locate phone number, hoping that there might be a way to cancel. I lucked into the right number, and canceled. But, again, nowhere on the Web site was I told how to cancel my subscription. Nary a word.

Although I’m certain this company would give some long-winded rationale for this Web site design, there is, of course, just one reason for it: They hope you get tired of looking, and give up the idea of canceling because it’s not worth it. Throw up enough barriers, and hope the poor schlub gets tired of scaling or going around them.

Word of advice: Don’t do this to your users. Don’t treat them like suckers. Don’t try to bleed them in this cynical manner. All you’ll do is lose a customer forever.

The Golden Rule comes to mind.