Retailers’ Policies Deter Memberships

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“Never again,” I told myself as a I struggled not to grind my teeth. I was ten minutes into a phone call with the Fabletics Customer Service Team, answering a painstaking list of “are you sure” questions from their CX rep. I’d tried to cancel my policy the self-respecting way… online, with minimal human interaction. But Fabletics has no online cancellation form. You have to call and answer a list of questions from a live customer service rep who is desperately trying to get you to stay just to cancel your membership –– an experience that nobody, in the history of retail has ever desired to have.

My intention had been to take a three-month break from Fabletics while adding some items from other yoga retailers’ upcoming sales to my wardrobe. I quickly realized, however, that this was not going to be my truth. I’m certainly not the only customer that becomes resentful when forced to listen to a lengthy, question-riddled sales pitch just to cancel a recurring membership charge. I’m also not the only one that’s had to contend with unexpected unpleasantness when stepping away from a retailer.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently joined the state of California in pushing back against restrictive call-to-cancel policies. The FTC classified call-to-cancel as among the “dark patterns that trick or trap consumers into subscriptions.” The FTC also illegalized cancellation policies that aren’t “at least as easy” as it is to sign up for the subscription.

But with all of the talk about customer service and disability equality that’s happening right now, it’s shocking to see that call-to-cancel is still so prevalent. They’re an antisocial millennial’s worst nightmare: you have no choice but to endure a sales pitch to get out of a subscription you purchased of your own volition. And the legality of call-to-cancel policies? Nebulous at best. Let’s talk about it.

California Illegalizes the Call to Cancel Kerfuffle

California’s reasoning behind making call to cancel policies illegal goes a lot deeper than just preventing terrible customer service. It’s also an accessibility challenge for deaf and hard of hearing customers, who may not be able to effectively communicate over the phone. When call-to-cancel is the only option, these customers have to deal with emailing back and forth with customer service to get their policies canceled –– a process which can take anywhere from a few hours to weeks to complete.

None of this is new information. Call-to-cancel policies have been illegal in California since 2018 when California Senate Bill 313 was passed. The bill targets automatic charges, as well as phone only cancellation policies. The bill stipulates than any subscription that can be signed up for online legally must be cancellable online, too. Unfortunately, some companies have created workarounds by giving California customers an email cancellation link, while requiring customers in other states to call-to-cancel.

Evidently Fabletics remains blissfully unaware of this California legislation, despite hard of hearing customers complaining about incurring repeat unwanted charges from this policy. Although Fabletics allegedly has phone “and chat” cancellation options, the chat feature still required me to call to cancel my subscription. To be fair, Fabletics isn’t alone in creating fake workarounds instead of accessible cancellation policies. Over 2,000 companies, including Planet Fitness, Domino’s, and Target have faced digital lawsuits over noncompliance with accessibility laws.

The Federal Trade Commission Gets in on the Action

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently joined the state of California in pushing back against restrictive call-to-cancel policies. The FTC classified call-to-cancel as among the “dark patterns that trick or trap consumers into subscriptions.” The FTC also illegalized cancellation policies that aren’t “at least as easy” as it is to sign up for the subscription. Nevertheless, Fabletics persisted.

Despite the FTC crackdown, some companies are weaseling their way out of providing easily accessible online subscription cancellation options. They’re doing this by requiring customers to chat with an online service representative, but making customers choose their reason for chatting prior to the conversation. They then deprioritize account cancellation conversations, so customers wind up having to call in and get the full workaround to cancel their policy.

Customers’ Are Unimpressed with Retailers’ Non-Compliance

There are a few different Gen Z purchasing behaviors that retailers can hang their hats on. One of the most prevalent being that retailers need to present themselves as advocates for the Gen Z demographics they serve. If a modern retailer presents themselves as part of the system, it can activate the “us against you” thinking that has made Gen Z such an infamous consumer group. When that happens, so do callouts on social media, boycotts, and leaving the brand behind entirely.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Gen Z consumers are loyal to brands that merit loyalty. Particularly those that take an active stance on issues that impact their customer base. Brands that demonstrate that they care about customers’ physical health, mental health, racial and ethnic diversity, and gender identity gain a loyal customer base. Those that create sneaky workarounds to basic accessibility laws need to publicly apologize and pivot, or accept the nasty reputation, fines, and disenchanted customers that follow.

In today’s world there are hundreds of retailers to choose from in every vertical. It’s a tough time for many retail businesses. Brands and retailers have fewer avenues with which they can differentiate themselves and, in this environment, authenticity and customer service take center stage. Shady cancellation policies aren’t just illegal… they burn bridges with would be customers and their communities. Nefarious cancellation policies just accelerate the death march. Building trust is the only way retailers can survive in this challenging environment.

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