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It's Over Between Us, Auto-Renew

August 2, 2018

 

This isn't a research post; it's more of a nagging thought.

 

There are many aspects of modern digital life that I truly appreciate, such as the ability to reserve a table at my favorite restaurant with OpenTable, or the ability to find the fastest route at rush hour with Waze. And, of course, being able to perform my job with amazing speed and precision by leveraging dozens of digital tools and technologies. I certainly do not yearn for the days of oil lamps and horse-drawn carriages, as quaint as that way of life may seem to us in our increasingly complex world.

 

I have, however, had my fill of digital pickpockets, customer unfriendly default billing choices, and other stealthy schemes designed to lock us into products and services with the hope that no one will notice. I have found that a simple mistake during an online checkout process can trigger a cascade of repeat purchases that can add to a significant sum over time. A recent review of my online purchases showed charges for more than $500 of auto-renewed software licenses, mobile phone apps, and other digital gizmos that I don’t even recall buying. This is only part of the story: ISPs, web hosting companies, streaming services, and software download services also apparently feel entitled to pick my pocket at renewal time in the hope that I will be asleep at the switch. A month goes by and oops, sorry – no refund. Most annoying are companies that don’t provide any obvious auto-renew opt-out at checkout. Once in the renewal system, canceling can prove difficult. A buyer is usually required to submit a request form or call an 800 number to correct their 'error'. Sales reps then attempt to convince customers of their mistake, or apply pressure to accept a lower-priced option, hoping that they will not completely defect.

 

Those of us who are small business owners, myself included (a marketing research firm), are a target-rich environment for products, services, and software that involve auto-renew. We frequently try new products and experiment with new ways to maximize our productivity – and we usually have resources to do so. Auto-renew is often tied to a “maintenance” agreement, or the promise of upgrades throughout the year, but these are often minimal in nature. The only objective appears to be to support the customer’s belief that auto-renew is somehow justified; rarely is this true. Quick: what new features in Microsoft Word were recently introduced that make you want to auto-renew? Crickets?

 

While it is not yet time for a New Year’s resolution, the upcoming quiet time over the summer (when businesses relax just a bit) could be a good time for you to review your invoices, and determine whether you consciously made a decision to buy that last product or service. Perhaps it was simply easier for you to ignore that auto-renew charge. But with just a little effort, I'm guessing you'll find a digital pickpocket or two in those credit card statements.

 

 

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