what is unbounce
CATEGORY
DID YOU KNOW WE HAVE A PODCAST?

Become a Better Marketer. Anytime, Anywhere.

Listen and learn on the go with Unbounce’s Call to Action marketing podcast. Tune in and get inspired in the car, while you cook, or at the gym.

The Long Goodbye: 7 Sites That Make It Hard to Unsubscribe

featured-image-de-optimization-friction-650
De-optimizing your cancellation process: You can check out any time you’d like, but you can never leave.

Easy is better. Simplify every process. Reduce friction. Help visitors take action quickly. The easier the website or landing page is to use, the more profitable it will be.

But there are exceptions.

Some of your visitors want to act in ways that don’t make money for your business. Some actions cause you to lose traffic, lose subscribers and lose money. Making these actions easier actually reduces profits.

These are the conversion rates you don’t want to optimize:

  • Cancel service
  • Unsubscribe
  • Downgrade your account

Sometimes, it pays to be difficult — but not if you’re sacrificing delightful user experience.

Here are seven de-optimized processes for ending subscriptions and cancelling service.

Are they profitable? Probably. Delightful? You be the judge.

1. Hidden help files: Cancelling Verizon

Verizon has a page about cancelling service, but people don’t like it much. The average rating of 1000 users is one out of five stars. And Verizon doesn’t seem to mind telling us this.

deoptimizing-opt-out-verizon-friction-example

The page is really about moving, changing or disconnecting service. But most likely, most visitors to this page aren’t moving. They’re trying to cancel.

But the page doesn’t actually tell you how to do that.

If you want that information, you’ll have to ask their automated agent, which is the robot head on the right. Here’s what the robot will tell you…

deoptimizing-opt-out-verizon-friction-example2

That’s right, you have to call. And this isn’t a direct line — you’ll have to wait as you’re transferred. Make sure it’s during business hours.

No wonder visitors gave this page one star.

2. Ending your free trial: Downgrading Hootsuite

I love Hootsuite. I use it all the time. I once tried their pro features, but after a few days, I decided it wasn’t for me. So I decided to switch back to the free version. This began a very long process.

You start by going to “billing” which doesn’t quite describe what I want to do, but close enough. Next, you’ll need to look very closely to find the “change plan type” link.

It’s the smallest text on the page. Gray on white text. See it?

deoptimizing-opt-out-hootsuite-friction-example
It’s the tiny, tiny text under the “Current plan” header on the right.

Now you have three options. The least profitable option for Hootsuite is on the right. It’s the least prominent, grayed out box. And the call to action doesn’t sound very appealing: “Downgrade.”

deoptimizing-opt-out-hootsuite-friction-example2

Click, and now you’ve made them sad. There’s a little owl crying somewhere at Hootsuite Headquarters.

But wait! There’s a special offer. And it’s free! But if you really want to break that owl’s heart, there’s another downgrade link at the bottom.

deoptimizing-opt-out-hootsuite-friction-example3

Now it gets real. There’s a red x next to the specific feature that we’ll lose if we downgrade. The specificity triggers loss aversion. And it’s not just the feature, I’m going to lose points!

To proceed, we have to really commit and click “Remove Everything” which sounds like a more extreme action that I’d intended.

deoptimizing-opt-out-hootsuite-friction-example4

One more message box with a reminder of what I’m losing. This must be to make sure I hadn’t clicked those last four tiny links by accident.

deoptimizing-opt-out-hootsuite-friction-example5

And finally, success! But it’s not over yet. There’s a continue button…

deoptimizing-opt-out-hootsuite-friction-example6

…which brings me to a survey. It’s smart to remove every dead end from your website, right?

Why not take the opportunity to gather a little information? One question asks about the reason for downgrading. Clever.

deoptimizing-opt-out-hootsuite-friction-example7

It was a long road of seven clicks, not including the survey. But we made it.

3. A very long dead end: Cancelling cable

I couldn’t find any information about cancelling cable on my local cable company’s website, so I looked in the knowledge center.

Looks like “cancel service” is #1 on the list of top searches.

deoptimizing-opt-out-RCN-friction-example

If it’s the top search, they must have a page on this topic, right? Let’s try searching for the most popular keyphrase on this website:

deoptimizing-opt-out-RCN-friction-example2

Nope! There is no page about cancelling. But the top search result might be helpful. It’s about “making a change.” Let’s try that.

deoptimizing-opt-out-RCN-friction-example3
This “making a change” page, by the way, was at the top of the list of “hot topics” on the previous page.

This page doesn’t actually mention cancelling, although that appears to be the main reason people are coming to this “knowledge center.”

It’s a dead end with a phone number at the top.

You know what happens next. It’s a 30 minute phone call to an operator who first offers you a lower rate. Eventually, you learn that you can cancel, but you have to bring your cable box back to their office first. They are open from 10am to 3pm Monday through Thursday.

The final step? Get in the car and drive several miles to the cable company to return the cable box. How’s that for user friction?

deoptimizing-opt-out-RCN-friction-example4

4. Instant regret: Opting out of a political newsletter

I’m on a lot of lists. Some of them are fundraising lists for political causes. These people send a lot of email, and although I might support the cause, enough is enough. Time to unsub.

Here’s the opt-out “thank you” page for a left-leaning campaign finance reform movement:

deoptimizing-opt-out-end-citizens-united-friction-example

Oh no! Because of me, the bad guys won!

The regret trigger is accompanied by an offer to resubscribe. It’s tempting.

5. Opt-out? Or update? Another unsubscribe process

Here is an unsubscribe page that doesn’t use the word unsubscribe.

It’s an offer to select from a list of newsletters with one option: “special subscription offers.” It looks exactly like a signup page.

deoptimizing-opt-out-crains-friction-example

Of course, you came to this page because you’re trying to stop receiving those offers. But there is no option to unsubscribe, only an option to update preferences. You unsubscribe by unchecking the “yes” box.

If this newsletter was a relationship, you wouldn’t be breaking up, you’d be declining the first date.

6. Cancelling premium service: Cutting ties with Spotify

Here’s another break up story that will leave you in tears. Spotify is a great service, but if you upgraded to the premium version through iTunes, you’re in a relationship that’s hard to get out of. By the time you’re done, you’ll need some counselling.

Imaging you’re trying to cancel Spotify Premium. You go to your account page. Now what do you click on?

deoptimizing-opt-out-spotify-friction-example1

The correct answer is “Subscription” which makes sense.

Step two in the process has a simple, clear link for cancelling:

deoptimizing-opt-out-spotify-friction-example2

Great. Let’s click that…

deoptimizing-opt-out-spotify-friction-example3

We’ve hit a dead end. It’s a notification telling us that we need to go to iTunes to cancel. You can’t cancel Spotify from within Spotify.

So we head over to iTunes, and of course, we start at the beginning. As before, we’ll go to “Account Info.”

deoptimizing-opt-out-spotify-friction-example4

Even though we’re already logged in, we need to log in again…

deoptimizing-opt-out-spotify-friction-example5

At the bottom of this page is a small “Subscriptions” label. To the right of it is a “Manage” link. Let’s try that. This was step seven in the process. But who’s counting?

deoptimizing-opt-out-spotify-friction-example6

Found it! This is where your Spotify subscription is managed. But where’s the cancel option? There isn’t one. But we can turn off “Automatic Renewal.”

deoptimizing-opt-out-spotify-friction-example7

Next up: a confirmation message. But this doesn’t actually cancel anything, it just lets it expire sometime within the next month.

deoptimizing-opt-out-spotify-friction-example8

I’ve endured this long process not because I don’t want Spotify, but because I need to cancel premium so I can sign up for the family plan. So I really don’t want to wait a month. Isn’t there a way to cancel now? Let’s chat with the support team.

deoptimizing-opt-out-spotify-friction-example9
In the end, you actually can’t cancel. You can only turn off automatic renewal and then wait.

So the last step in this nine step in the process? Wait a month.

7. The endless funnel: The long road away from Audible

We’ve seen tough-to-quit services, hidden opt-outs, and post-cancellation surveys. Here’s one final breakup service that combines them all into a masterpiece of deoptimization.

It’s Audible.

Rather than having to purchase audiobooks, they sell a subscription to an endless stream of audiobooks. If you don’t use them, the credits pile up. Eventually, you’ll wonder why you’re paying that monthly fee.

Let’s see what it takes to cancel.

First, we go to our account details page. There are a lot of options here, including one clearly marked “Cancel my membership.”

deoptimizing-opt-out-audible-friction-example
On the left, in the middle box.

Although we just told the site we want to cancel, we’re presented with benefits and selling points.

Where’s the cancel option?

deoptimizing-opt-out-audible-friction-example2

Scroll down. It’s below the fold.

deoptimizing-opt-out-audible-friction-example3

Before we proceed, we need to name our reason.

This is a smart way for them to force the data collection. So we’ll pick an option and click “Continue.”

deoptimizing-opt-out-audible-friction-example4

After selecting that we’re taken here:

deoptimizing-opt-out-audible-example-5

Wait — we wanted to cancel, but the highlighted option here is to put the account “on hold!”

The “Continue Canceling” button is here but it’s less prominent. The site is saying, “Let’s not break up. Let’s just take a break for a while.”

But determined to move on, we continue.

Next we land on an offer to keep our account at a lower cost. Rather than $180 per year, the price is reduced to $10:

deoptimizing-opt-out-audible-friction-example6

But stay focused! We click “Continue Canceling.”

One last pitch to talk through things on the phone:

deoptimizing-opt-out-audible-friction-example7

Or finish our (eighth?) step and click “Finish Canceling.”

We made it. Here, finally, is the confirmation page:

deoptimizing-opt-out-audible-friction-example8

But of course, this isn’t goodbye. We are told that although we’ve cancelled, we are “still a valued customer.” Once a customer, always a customer.

And the site wants to have one last conversation: Select a rating or leave additional comments.

The last screen? A list of reasons to renew.

Make that remorse disappear by choosing a plan and running back into the arms of Audible:

deoptimizing-opt-out-audible-friction-example9

Of course, there’s a confirmation email, which is another chance for reconciliation — back at the site, through email or over the phone.

deoptimizing-opt-out-audible-friction-example10

And although we’ve cancelled, we’re still subscribed. Minutes later we get another email, offering us a free book.

It’s just a click away!

deoptimizing-opt-out-audible-friction-example11

Remember, that one-click relapse is easy, but to get clean again, you’ll need to go back through that 12-step program.

It all reminds me of that lyric from the Eagles song Hotel California.

You can checkout any time you’d like. But you can never leave…

This is not marketing advice

Marketing is about promoting a product or service. It’s about showing prospects that you understand their pain points and that you’ve got a tailored solution.

What you’ve witnessed here is entrapment. The goal is to retain customers at any cost. So before you consider these tactics, ask yourself:

  • If we keep them, will they still be happy?
  • Will there be a backlash against us?
  • Do these tactics violate our brand values?
  • How far are we willing to go to keep a customer?

Great websites are empathetic. They care, they help and they work with the visitor for mutual success.

About Andy Crestodina
Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago. You can find Andy on and Twitter.
» More blog posts by

Comments:

  1. Michele

    Any company who makes customers jump through hoops to quit their service doesn’t value the customer’s time. It speaks volumes about their brand. At our company, we pride ourselves on making it easy to start and easy to quit. Companies need to be THAT confident in their value and services for customers.

    (3)
    Reply
  2. Mikemick

    The only one I read was Spotify. It seemed more like user error, or a lack of understanding, imho. You subscribed via iTunes, therefore must cancel within iTunes (this is how it works with services that subscribe through PayPal too, btw). You having to reauthenticate yourself in iTunes is an Apple thing that has nothing to do with Spotify. It’s there for your safety, btw.

    You’ve already paid for service for that billing cycle. When canceling, they don’t remove the days of service you’ve already purchased in your billing cycle.

    You are talking to Apple support in your chat. I suspect that this is the only subscription you’ve had through iTunes. This is just how it works (which is how PayPal subscriptions work too). In reality, you actually have a subscription with iTunes, for Spotify service. iTunes handles all billing, and notifies Spotify about billing actions, etc. Spotify doesn’t (can’t) manage the subscription (because it is actually an iTunes subscription, not a Spotify subscription).

    So, your issue seems to be with iTunes, not Spotify. You can replace Spotify with any service that uses iTunes subscriptions and come to the same conclusion.

    If you would have subscribed to Spotify using their payment processing, and not gone through iTunes, you would have been done at Step #2.

    (0)
    Reply
    • Andy Crestodina

      There may have been some user error there. Or at least “user misunderstanding” But in my defense and regardless of the reason, that was a horrible experience. I learned the hard way not to use iTunes to sign up for services.

      This post was really just a fun little rant. I’m not sure I’d even call this a marketing article. But the friction is real and it does have a business impact, good or bad. Which one depends on your point of view.

      PS: I’m still a fan of Spotify. I was changing my account status so I could get on a family plan with my wife. We had to wait a month to do it, but eventually we got it sorted out.

      (2)
      Reply
  3. Amy Hebdon

    I consider all these to be dark patterns – a term I learned about from Call to Action Conf!

    I think it should be required for any service to be as easy to leave as it is to join: if you only had to click a button to sign-up, you should not have to email or call anyone to cancel.

    When I canceled audible last month, I thought it was super interesting that my reason for leaving was not in their dropdown, and “other” was not an option, so I was forced to say I didn’t want to tell them why – even though I wanted to!

    I canceled Skype yesterday which was the hardest cancellation process I’ve ever gone through. Most you can eventually get to a page where you realize you have to call or email to cancel, which is frustrating. But page after page after page I couldn’t figure out how to cancel – I just kept toggling back and forth between a microsoft login page and the paypal site. Infuriating.

    (2)
    Reply
  4. Brian

    “What you’ve witnessed here is entrapment” is a fitting conclusion to the article.

    Perhaps, instead of trapping customers for a few minutes longer, companies should focus on making better products and services. People are less likely to quit products substance.

    (1)
    Reply
  5. software development company

    What a great post!. Thanks Andy. I really enjoyed your Article.

    (1)
    Reply
  6. Bharathi Priya

    Very nice topic with relevant examples. Though these kind of services execute an awesome marketing strategy to prevent their users from un-subscribing, it creates a lot of troubles to the user who really want to un-subscribe. Very well explained.

    (0)
    Reply
  7. Tony Gavin

    …and who could forget trying to unsubscribe from Zoho? I’d call what they do downright deceptive! I wrote this blog on how to terminate an account with them: http://e-marketing.com.au/marketing-automation-news/1-zoho-crm-how-to-cancel-your-subscription-close-your-account

    (0)
    Reply
    • Andy Crestodina

      Thanks for that heads up, Tony. I’m in the market for CRM and I’d heard about ZOHO. I’ll be taking a close look at the link you shared. Looks like another example of horrible, profitable user experience…

      (0)
      Reply
      • Tony Gavin

        Truthfully Andy, Zoho was a good, if mind-bogglingly complex system. We just couldn’t get staff (especially sales staff) to use it effectively. Now, we’re using Mautic, which we’ve integrated with numerous websites. I think that because of its integrations and features, sales staff see the value in it more readily. Plenty of other decent systems out there too. It’s just the difficulty of unsubscribing for Zoho which pissed me off, as it clearly has many, many other users out there.

        (0)
        Reply
  8. Vatsala Shukla

    Thank God I’m not using any of these services. I know of one internet service provider in India who first created a mess for a week and then after I cancelled my subscription having phoned enough times to let them know I wasn’t amused, I received tons of calls asking me if I really wanted to unsubscribe and when I said yes, the other person would get angry. Anyway, I got rid of them but not before paying for an extra billing cycle which I gladly did to get rid of them. One of their franchisees told me later that they were so focused on implementing 4G that the company forgot they already had pan India customers. Guess who’s never returning to them.

    (0)
    Reply
  9. Jon Clayton

    I had a similar situation with Hootsuite, who I love and am a premium member. It was a royal pain!

    (0)
    Reply
  10. JulieWriter

    Reminds me of one of my colleagues who was setting up a newsletter for his website and I asked him where the unsubscribe button and he said that there wasn’t any. Once you subscribe to his newsletter there is no getting out. If I can’t easily get out of a newsletter relationship, I just mark it as spam and I never have to read it again.

    (0)
    Reply
  11. Nancy Harhut

    Great article Andy! As usual – informative, insightful and entertaining.

    (0)
    Reply
  12. Ken P

    Thank you for shedding a light on this. I’ve experienced directly three of your example websites. Hard to believe an enlightened marketer or business person doesn’t realize that sooner or later this cynical behavior is exposed. Eventually they’ll be forced to remedy the problem, but this article will remain forever to memorialize how they treat their customers.

    (0)
    Reply
  13. Akansha Shukla

    Very informative post. It will help me. Great Thanks.:)

    (0)
    Reply
  14. Startup Basics

    Thanks for posting this, I really like this article because it is very informative, services with awesome marketing strategies to gather prospect users and prevent users to unsubscribe. Thanks for sharing Andy.

    (0)
    Reply
  15. Charlie Ford

    I’m glad that you included the last part. While reading this I kept thinking, well, Unbounce, you’re really great at understanding how to make people happy about website services, right? Then you give example after frustrating example after frustrating example.

    I’m a huge fan of the one-click unsubscribe. It’s often that I’m not sure if I wanted a service or not, so I’d like to take a break from it and re-evaluate it later. Pandora, Spotify, various paid apps, etc. When I run into this type of friction I get angry and I *remember* how the “company” treated me when I wanted to leave. A bad unsubscribe experience is grounds for never subscribing again, IMO.

    So sure, this friction is “good” in that it keeps more money in a company’s pocket, but we’re *all* consumers and we should treat people how we’d like to be treated. A polite “No, Thank You,” when it comes to a service should be respected.

    (0)
    Reply
  16. Rekhila

    Truely a very good article on how to handle the future technology. After reading your post,thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel happy about and I love learning more about this topic. keep sharing your information regularly for my future reference. This content creates a new hope and inspiration with in me. Thanks for sharing article like this. The way you have stated everything above is quite awesome. Keep blogging like this. Thanks.

    (0)
    Reply
  17. Tom Wright

    As someone who has tried cancelling their Verizon service, I’m glad to see I’m not the only one having these problems. Thanks for the share, Andy. Great tips as always.

    (0)
    Reply
  18. Mark Boon

    Hi Andy,

    Enjoyed reading the post. Very impressive. I had an experience with Hootsuite and found it very frustrating. Also thanks for making aware about other sites who are doing the same. Thanks for sharing such useful post.

    (0)
    Reply
Comments