We’ve all signed up for a subscription service at one time or another. Maybe it was for a cool pair of workout leggings, delivered each month. Or perhaps it was a [healthy meal kit service], with recipes and ingredients delivered weekly. Or possibly, it was a “trunk” of luxury beauty products, hair care, and exercise trinkets, sent to you with the onset of each new season.
But what it is isn’t all that important—if you’re reading this, it probably means you want out of whatever subscription service you’re enrolled in, whether you bought in last month or years ago. And, if unsubscribing is proving more challenging than you thought it would be, you’re not the only one. Many subscription-based companies utilize methods that make it difficult to excise them from your life, called dark patterns, in which sites use misleading links and confusing questions to trick the unconscious mind into sticking around longer or even signing up for more services, despite your intention to unsubscribe once and for all.
A whole article (or several) could be written on the insidiousness of dark patterns. But for now, let’s focus on escaping the clutches of an ongoing subscription product or service. The good news? It’s not impossible to cancel a subscription—at most, it’s a hassle.
“It’s really about being proactive in thinking ‘don’t waste unnecessary money,’” says Reviewed’s inventory manager Michael Shepard, who’s responsible for canceling the subscription plans we test. Read on for exactly how he and others on our staff wrangle the subscription services we’ve used.
Plan on cancelling your subscription right from the start
The most effective way to prepare to cancel a subscription service starts right when you sign up for it—even if you don’t expect to do it any time soon.
Emerging categories editor Amy Roberts has run through a gamut of subscription services (mostly for her dog, Gus). She recommends recording the date you ordered the product and the day of the month your subscription will be renewed in your planner or (in her case) Google calendar. If you know you’ll want to cancel it at some point, create a reminder for a week before you get charged again in case the cancellation process is more difficult than you anticipated. “Some make you email or call customer service, so you want to give yourself a few days before the actual renewal date to do that,” she says.
Michael Shepard utilizes his Google calendar to stay ahead of subscription services, too. His main tip? “Set it for specific time of day that you know you won’t ‘snooze’ the notification because you are busy and can’t be bothered,” he says. “I just had to do one and I wanted to remind myself first thing in the morning so it was the first thing I did.” He also has the notifications sent to his phone, not just his computer, so he can cancel it from wherever he is.
Finally, if your intention is only to enjoy a free trial of a service, cancel it right after you receive the first shipment (or immediately, if it’s an app or other intangible product). This shouldn’t shorten your trial period if it’s for more than one month—if it’s already started, they usually won’t take it away from you—and it ensures you take action while it’s still top of mind.
Remember to skip when you want to skip
Some subscriptions allow members to skip deliveries but stay in enrolled in the service for no or a low fee. This is a great option if you like your subscription but don’t need it as often as it’s offered—and you remember to skip before the next one ships.
Audience manager Rachel Moskowitz subscribes to Fabletics, a women’s athleisure brand that delivers workout gear each month (and has come under considerable fire for its customer manipulation techniques in the past).
She loves Fabletics’ products and she also loves that she can pause months, though it isn’t as intuitive as it could be. “I haven’t always remembered to skip, so I have been charged when I didn’t want to be,” she says. “It’s a genius model for Fabletics to make money, but difficult as a consumer because it’s so easy to slip your mind and forget to pause your month.”
Now, Rachel sets a calendar alert on the first day of each month (Fabletics charges her on the sixth) so she has time to decide if she wants to get her leggings that month.
Use critical reading skills when cancelling
“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” is a saying most people associate with playing high school football in Texas. But it’s also applicable to canceling subscription services, which is often a task of endurance, stamina—and some careful scrutiny.
If you’re cancelling a service after being enrolled for some time, “you just have to know going in that you’re going to probably be offered some kind of deal to entice you to stay, even though you’re obviously cancelling for a reason,” says TJ Donegan, Reviewed’s executive editor of core content. “Nearly all of them make it more confusing than necessary.”
Finding an option to cancel usually involves some poking through the site, which might be buried in a payment tab or a subsection in your user profile. Then, you may have to jump through some hoops after pushing the “cancel” button. This could be answering a quick survey about why you’re leaving the service, or declining an offer of cheaper-than-usual rates before you actually escape (possibly followed by a warning that if you ever want to resubscribe, you’ll be subjected to an exorbitant, vengeful fee as punishment for leaving in the first place).
This is where the dark patterns could come into play. You may also have to scroll through a few confusing pages full of questions asking you if you really want to cancel, in which it seems as though cancelling isn’t an option at all. If it’s, say, a fashion subscription, you might see a bright, appealing-looking button that says, “Actually, I love getting compliments! Keep me signed up!” above a tiny button that says something like, “Yes, I want people to think I look like a hot mess. Unsubscribe.” (These are fictitious examples, but you get the idea.)
Once you parse through those steps, make sure you get confirmation of your cancellation. “I’ve had a couple services show a “Done” button when you’re still mid-way through cancelling that doesn’t actually cancel your service, so always check that it went through,” TJ says.
If you’re in doubt, reach out to the brand’s customer service. In my experience, this can be a hassle to orchestrate—I once had to cancel a Book of the Month subscription and it took me three different calls to do so. But once you get in touch with the right person, you’ll be free of that subscription once and for all.
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