When auto-renewal isn’t very automatic

12Apr10

While renewing a subscription for an online service, I came across a strange paradox. The service was configured for automatic renewal, but the provider sent an email saying that auto-renewal was turned off. Well, I checked the account and it showed that the feature was turned on and the credit card on file was correct. I did some more digging, and finally located the problem: apparently, there’s a separate screen where you have to manually associate the credit card with each service that you’re subscribed to. If you skip this step, the auto-renewal fails.

Why the website doesn’t do this automatically is beyond me. Clearly, if the customer entered a credit card number for the initial purchase and selected the auto-renewal option, they expect you to charge that same card every month, year, or whatever the interval may be. Requiring people to go through another hidden step to actually make the feature work is just plain dumb, and probably leads to a lot of failed renewals and other problems.

The solution is obvious: when a customer chooses auto-renewal and enters a credit card, you should use that credit card to process the renewal at the appropriate time. Don’t make people go through extra steps — whether during the initial purchase or at renewal time — to get things working properly. By removing needless friction from the process, you’ll reduce the headaches for your customers, while ensuring that revenues continue to flow properly from your recurring orders.



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