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ACM: consumers should be able to cancel online any subscriptions that have been taken out online

Businesses that offer online subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and lotteries make it unnecessarily difficult for consumers to cancel those subscriptions online. Consumers experience high barriers to cancel, and, when talking to these companies over the phone, they feel pressured not to cancel their subscriptions or to agree to a new offer. These are some of the conclusions of a study conducted by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). Such practices are not allowed. Consumers must be able to cancel their subscriptions in the same way in which they took them out. So if you took out a subscription online, you must be able to cancel it online as well. In its study, ACM observed that businesses did not offer this option or made it more difficult for consumers to cancel online. ACM has reminded businesses of the rules. These businesses have already adjusted their practices or are currently working on that. ACM will check whether the adjustments have actually been implemented.

Edwin Van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, adds: ‘Businesses often make it easy for consumers to take out subscriptions. What they need to realize is that, if they do, they will also have to make it just as easy to cancel those subscriptions. So this means: taking out online also means canceling online. Canceling subscriptions online must be presented in an easy-to-find spot on the website. No additional barriers can be created, such as hiding the link or clicking on three different links before reaching the cancellation page. Businesses from all sectors that offer online subscriptions must comply with these rules.’

Study into subscriptions

Over the past few months, ACM conducted a study finding out whether consumers are able to cancel their subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and lotteries online easily. All nine businesses that were included in this study did not offer enough options to cancel subscriptions online. Some businesses did not offer the option to cancel subscriptions online. Other businesses did offer the option to cancel online, but consumers were heavily steered towards canceling over the phone, while canceling online was made more difficult, for example, because the information about online cancellation was hard to find. Businesses often push towards canceling over the phone, because, in that situation, they still have a chance to retain consumers as customers by convincing them not to cancel, and by making them a new offer.

ACM has reprimanded the businesses that were included in the study. As a result of ACM’s action, businesses that previously did not offer the option to cancel online do offer this option now. The businesses that did offer the option to cancel online, but in a difficult-to-find spot, now offer this option in an easy-to-find spot. In this study, ACM checked subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and lotteries, but these rules apply to all subscriptions that can be taken out online. ACM’s consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer welcomes any reports about other sectors that do not comply with these rules yet.

Rules regarding online subscriptions

Businesses that offer subscriptions to consumers online must ensure that consumers are able to cancel these subscriptions online just as easily. Businesses must clearly inform consumers during and after the agreement about how they are able to cancel their subscriptions. More concretely, this means:

  • This information must be presented together, and must be easy-to-find in a logical spot on the website;
  • Businesses are not allowed to create any barriers to cancel online, such as by pushing consumers towards canceling over the phone or by making consumers click several times before being able to cancel online;
  • Businesses must confirm an online cancellation to consumers either in writing or by email, and indicate on what date the subscription will be canceled.