Ancestry Auto-Renew Blues? Why Genealogy Companies Use Recurring Payment Subscriptions

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Why Ancestry Auto-Renew and Other Genealogy Subscription Models are Bad for Business

Genealogy expert Thomas MacEntee of GenealogyBargains.com offers his perspectives on why auto-renew subscription models used by Ancestry and other companies are bad for business.

Last week you may have seen this story about Ancestry.com being sued for $250 million related to its auto-renew practices. And when the story broke, we had quite the vibrant conversation over at the Genealogy Bargains Facebook Page … click HERE to see the latest comments.

Before I offer my tips and strategies for getting the most out of your Ancestry subscription and ANY genealogy subscription, keep this in mind:

  • Almost EVERY genealogy website uses auto-renewal procedures and often link them with free trial offers or discounts.
  • I am NOT singling out Ancestry because the are the “big muscle” in the genealogy industry. However, Ancestry is the subject of a class-action lawsuit related to auto-renewals and recurring payments, so I’ve used them as just ONE example. I also cover MyHeritage, Findmypast, and others in my tips below.
  • Consumers must read the Terms and Conditions on every offer they sign up for. Very often not fully understanding the true “cost” of a free trial … paired with not signing up for notifications or not checking spam emails . . . these are the biggest factors involved when genealogists express unhappiness with auto-renewals.

Why Auto-Renew and Recurring Payments Suck

Welcome to what is often called the Subscription Economy. Did you know that 84% of online consumers UNDERESTIMATE how much they spend on recurring website subscriptions each month? Click here to read America’s Relationship with Subscriptions by WestMonroe Partners. So while it is easy to accept a free trial and enroll in a subscription plan, it isn’t always easy to change auto-renewal settings and cancel a subscription.

The main points of last week’s discussion with my followers over at Facebook were:

  • Why do genealogy sites use auto-renew? A subscription-based business model is very popular for this reason: payments are automatic and the vendor doesn’t have to make a sales pitch to the consumer each time a subscription expires. Not only does the vendor save on marketing costs, but an automatic renewal is just that: automatic, occurs on a scheduled, income can be predicted, and lower administrative costs are incurred.
  • Are all genealogy subscription renewals the same? Actually, if you look at the general subscription economy, there are some renewal models worthy of note. The standard model currently used by most genealogy websites includes an initial offer with credit card credentials required to activate the subscription. Then after the trial period expires, recurring payments are activated. But the way in which notifications to the consumer are handled can be very different! Some vendors don’t notify a subscriber of an upcoming recurring payment until after the fact.  And while many consumers complain that they never received a notification, the culprit is usually a change in email address or failure to check junk and spam email folders.

But there is a big difference between an Automatic vs. Manual Subscription Renewal as show in the infographic below from Understanding Subscription Renewal: Reversing Failed Payments and Renewing Subscriptions at ProfitWell.

But there is a big difference between an Automatic vs. Manual Subscription Renewal as show in the infographic below from Understanding Subscription Renewal: Reversing Failed Payments and Renewing Subscriptions at ProfitWell.

  • Should genealogists demand a better subscription model for genealogy sites? I prefer the Manual Renewal model and I think it helps build a better customer relationship and furthers customer loyalty. One of my subscriptions for my business is with OptinMonster (allows me to create pop-up ads on my websites). I had a yearly subscription costing over $300 a year, but it DID NOT AUTO-RENEW. Instead, the subscription ended and I was emailed with offers to renew.

I would LOVE to see genealogy sites switch to the Manual Renew plan and even go one step further: after the initial offer and subscription, in the email pitch for renewal of a manual plan, offer a discount if the customer actively OPTS IN to auto-renewal.

For a good overview of auto-renewals and recurring payments from a vendor industry perspective, see Understanding Subscription Renewal: Reversing Failed Payments and Renewing Subscriptions.

And in my next article I’ll cover How to Change Auto-Renew Settings at Ancestry and Other Genealogy Sites!

©2020, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved