Mary Schmidt has one of her usual goodies on the care and feeding of customers, and you might want to head on over to Mary's to take a look at it. (Here's where to find it.) To summarize, she writes about a recent experience with Am-Ex, which has generously gifted her with an "almost" free appointment book and mini-scheduler. No wonder Mary got cranked up:
...while there is no charge for these (”in limited supply” heh), in the first year, I have to pay a “small fee” to cover the cost of shipping them to my home. That’s $2.79 for the Appointment Book (with a “luxurious” cover. Gollee!) and $1.79 for the Mini-Scheduler (that has calendars for 2007 to 2009 and “much more.” Oh, boy!) Then they automatically sign me up for following years and will bill my account for $26.99 and $16.99 for each of this nifty planners.
The little "fine print" - putting you on the hook for paying way too much in perpetuity for these "free" goods - got me thinking of a couple of other variations on a theme: the perpetual subscription that you have to call, write, and petition your Congressperson if you want to get out of.
A few years ago, when my 75 year old aunt sent me an e-card for St. Patrick's Day, I e-carded her back. What the heck, I signed up for $12 for a full year of e-carding, which I think I took advantage of once or twice.
Then, what to my wondering eyes did appear but another $12 charge for the service. Which I canceled out of, but too late to get my second $12 back. Grrrrrrrr.......
Then I wanted/needed/thought I wanted/needed access to something or other on the Fortune site that required the purchase of a paper-mag subscription. Again, it was one of those automatically resubscribe deals. After two years of receiving a magazine that mostly went straight into the re-cycle box, I wised up and sent a letter canceling my subscription.
Same thing with Consumer Reports. I can't remember now what it was that I was looking for - some appliance or electronics thing or another - but I signed up for access to the online info service. Well, during that year I had exactly zero need to check out Consumer Reports for anything else. (Hard to believe it was a zero-purchase year, but it might have been.) Then there it was on my credit card: $26 for the automatic renewal.
Talk about a real downside of not paying by check!
Now, while Fortune had no way or another to know whether I was reading their magazine, in the case of the e-greeting service (can't remember which one it was) and Consumer Reports, surely it must have been pretty clear to the service that I was not exactly using it. Shouldn't they have, at minimum, sent me an e-mail asking me to re-up. Or - during the year - sending me a note suggesting something that might be of interest to me, a little nudge to get back in there and use the service. ("Memorial Day's coming....don't you have a Civil War veteran you want to greet?" or "We've just come out with our new reviews of solar-powered idea generators, why not take a look."
Nope. I wouldn't swear on my life to this, but to the best of my recall the next time I heard from these folks was a charge on my credit card.
On the other hand, I renew my Symantech Security annually. With a month to go on my subscription, I start getting pop up messages reminding me to renew. Yes, they are a teensy-weensy bit annoying, but I do want to be secure. I will be renewing. And thanks for asking, rather than just tossing a charge my way.
I'm sure for those companies that go the if-we-don't-hear-different-we're-just-going-to-keep-on-rolling-you, it must be worth it. Or seem worth it. They must just make more on "the consumer" than they would if they asked them, pretty-please, to renew. Why chance a refusal, when you can just stick them. Enough of them must not squawk back, but must just go ahead and pay - at least for another year.
In the long run, though, which companies am I going to look more favorably on? Those who ask for my business nicely, or those who are so clearly just in it for the quick buck? Hmmmmm....