🖤 Donations of all sizes power our public service journalism Give Now

Be prepared to navigate a maze to cancel that subscription

Matt Levin Jun 22, 2023
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
The FTC alleges that Amazon intentionally complicated the cancellation process for Prime subscription service. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Be prepared to navigate a maze to cancel that subscription

Matt Levin Jun 22, 2023
Heard on:
The FTC alleges that Amazon intentionally complicated the cancellation process for Prime subscription service. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

If you remember reading “The Iliad” in high school, what you probably remember most about the ancient Greek epic is that it is epically long. So it makes sense that, according to the Federal Trade Commission, the folks at Amazon named the process to cancel Amazon Prime memberships “The Iliad Flow.” Business Insider broke the story last year.

The FTC sued Amazon Wednesday, saying, “the primary purpose of the Prime cancellation process was not to enable subscribers to cancel, but rather to thwart them.” Amazon said the suit is “false on the facts and the law.”

Other companies have also been accused of making it difficult to stop paying them

I have been thinking of ditching one of my subscriptions: my internet service. Shockingly, my current provider does not have a big red “cancel” button among the options on the membership or help page.

If you Google it though, you can find the cancellation page that does not involve calling a 800 number or going into a physical store.

“They know very well, probably from experience with millions of other customers, that if we find it difficult to cancel, we’re just going to keep paying,” explained Jean-Pierre Dubé, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

“We’re going to pay it grudgingly, but we’ll keep paying because the hassle far outweighs the cost,” Dubé said.

Dube himself is still paying for a landline he doesn’t use — it comes with his internet — and it’s a pain to change his bundle.

“This is what’s called a switching cost,” he said.

Dube said companies tend to artificially inflate switching costs when there’s not much difference between them and the competition — for example, telecom.

Stanford Business School professor Navdeep Sahni said while these elaborate cancellation mazes can retain some customers, they’re bad for the brand.

“Consumers are keeping a score. So they may not respond immediately, but they are keeping a note,” Sahni said. 

That being said, those mazes are still pretty complicated, even for people who research them for a living. Sahni has long wanted to cut the cord on his cable TV subscription.

“And I’ve even tried to cancel it one time and got convinced not to. That whole process is a long one,” Sahni said.

Sahni was offered some free channels to stay. He said that promotion expired years ago, but he’s still a customer.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.