“How can I cancel before I subscribe?” and other auto-renew horrors

Vicki Alexander’s recent experience with beauty subscription company GlossyBox has left her wondering how someone can cancel a subscription before she has even signed up.

Such a feat may be impossible, but the crazy terms of her deal have led her to wonder if she is losing her money — or just losing her mind.

Possibly a little of both.

GlossyBox is one of several companies that have become popular in the last few years, offering packages of preselected cosmetics, shipped at regular intervals. For customers who enjoy letting someone else choose products for them, it’s an enticing proposition.

Alexander signed up for a monthly cosmetic subscription on May 24, and she received her first shipment on June 1. When she opened the box, she didn’t like the products, and thought it wasn’t a good value. So she did what anyone in her position would do. She immediately canceled.

Or so she thought.

The GlossyBox business model requires that the customer provide a credit card and agree to auto-renewal. Alexander’s case shows us how tricky it can be to get out of an auto-renew agreement, when a company has your credit card information and has buried the terms of the deal in the fine print.

Knowing GlossyBox requires cancellation by the 14th of the month, Alexander logged into her account to cancel right away. When she canceled her subscription, GlossyBox sent a confirmation of her cancellation. And although it was June 1, the email specified that she would still be charged for a June shipment, which would arrive later in the month.

Alexander wrote back to customer service, asking why she would be charged again for June if her cancellation occurred on June 1.

“I do not want to receive the next box,” she wrote to GlossyBox. “Today is June 1; this is more than enough time.”

That’s when GlossyBox delivered the bad news: “Although you canceled before the 14th of the month, you still receive the box for the month in which you cancel.”

Gotcha.

Frustrated and furious, Alexander responded to the company to remind them of the transaction timeline and figure out how this could be possible. “I bought the box after the 14th of May. That does not make sense! Buying the May box does NOT commit me to buying the June box! How can I cancel before I subscribe?”

Auto-renew programs aren’t always deceptive, but when the company makes canceling difficult, expensive or worse — threatens the loss of services for the duration of the period already paid — auto-renew schemes are not consumer-friendly. This isn’t the first time we’ve written about the deceptive nature of auto-renew programs, and it surely won’t be the last. It’s one of our least favorite consumer “gotchas.”

GlossyBox explained to Alexander that had she not glossed over the deal’s terms and conditions, but reviewed them closely, she would have seen that signing up for monthly subscription after the 14th of the month automatically forces an opt-in to the following month as well. “Your subscription is now cancelled,” GlossyBox wrote. “Moving forward after the June box, you will not be charged for or receive any more shipments.”

GlossyBox didn’t use the word “forces” – I did. But sure enough, about halfway through its 6,760 words of terms and conditions, (about eight times the length of this article) it specifies: “If you choose to subscribe to the Monthly Plan between the 15th to the end of the month, you automatically agree to the following month’s charge.”

Well, that’s nice. Alexander doesn’t want to be a GlossyBox customer anymore, and the company is pointing to the contract, magnifying glass in hand, telling her she has no choice. And when you consider that the company could take a brand new order on May 24 and deliver it a week later, there’s no reason it can’t accept a cancellation just as quickly.

It just doesn’t want to.

Instead, the company has established a business model that preys on consumers who don’t read the fine print, drafted solely to ensure that as many auto-drafts as possible can be processed, whether or not the customer wants the service any longer. It’s what you do when you know the majority of customers are trying the service as a novelty, in a pathetic move to maximize profits.

And reviewing the fine print, you’ll find that GlossyBox writes its subscription plans so that all amounts paid are nonrefundable and products are neither returnable nor exchangeable, unless they arrive damaged. So why get involved in such a program?

Our advocacy team contacted GlossyBox, asking how Alexander should have known that subscribing on the 24th of the month involved an automatic two-month commitment. A GlossyBox representative referred us to the fine print and finally offered to refund the money paid for the June box, if Alexander agreed to refuse the shipment.

“Too little, too late,” Alexander responded. “I opened the box, thinking maybe it was worth the money. It is not. The box includes bright red lipstick (I am 60 and do not wear that) and a few other ‘meh’ things.”

That’s been my experience with personal shopping services like these. They leave something to be desired, and if I’m going to spend money, I prefer the specificity and the value placed on customer satisfaction when shopping directly from luxury cosmetic brands. For $21 a month and a little trial and error, it can be done, without all the strings attached.

The whole setup – the tricky cancellation policy and the nonrefundable, recurring charges, with no easy way out — is the company’s way of ensuring it keeps the upper hand for as long as possible. It’s a great reason to avoid auto-renew programs, and if you get involved in them, to be extra vigilant.

Since Alexander had not actually opened any of the June product, and following correspondence with our advocates, GlossyBox made an exception to its policy, accepting the return and refunding her money.

Consider this Pandora’s box closed.

Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook
About the Author
A writer and natural advocate, Jessica joined our consumer advocacy effort following a decade of work on behalf of air crash victims at one of the nation's largest plaintiffs' law firms. She has lived in Europe and Asia, but now calls Charleston, S.C. home.
Posted in That's Ridiculous! Tagged , ,

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by InsureMyTrip

It’s simple. InsureMyTrip finds you the right travel insurance plan, every time. InsureMyTrip is the authority on travel insurance. Rated A+ for travel insurance by the Better Business Bureau. All travelers that purchase a policy through  InsureMyTrip have access to Anytime Advocates® for claims assistance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by SCOTTeVEST

An innovative apparel brand for people who want easy access to everything they need. For those who live for every second, SCOTTeVEST lets you maximize your life. Ditch the carry-on bag and pick up a  SCOTTeVEST.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.