Aretha Greatrix had to do a double take last month when she received a text and an email thanking her for renewing her subscription to OutTV.
The Edmonton filmmaker signed up for an annual subscription to the specialty streaming service years ago to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, but vowed she canceled when news of the auto-renewal hit. She was wrong.
“I was like, ‘You mean I’ve had it all along?’ … and not only that, but now I’m paying for another year,” she recalled.
Greatrix is one of many Canadians who are confronted with memories of streaming platform subscriptions, meal packages, magazines and even household items like diapers and cleaning supplies. Ecommerce giants like Amazon.com Inc. can ship to consumers on a regular basis.
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Many signed up for the services as the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily canceled arts performances and live sporting events, making in-person shopping and gatherings riskier. But in recent months, Canadians have returned to their favorite pastimes and are now finding subscriptions taking a toll on their wallets.
Netflix alone added more than 36 million subscribers in 2020, taking its total subscriber base to over 200 million, but has since reported its first drop in subscribers since 2011. The streaming giant said it lost 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of 2022, mostly because it withdrew its services from Russia after the country went to war with Ukraine.
The company is bracing for an even more extreme drop — around two million users — by the end of June.
Meal kit company HelloFresh also saw its subscriber count fall to 6.94 million in the third quarter from 7.7 million in the second quarter, but has since recovered to 7.2 million.
Though many opt out, there are others who keep their accounts active simply because they forget to cancel the service or don’t even remember they have them because they don’t keep a close eye on their bills.
“Most people don’t think about the auto-renewal feature and just get carried away by the dynamics,” said Oren Eizenman, partner at McKinsey and Co.
“Only when you have certain monumental aha moments where you’re like, ‘I’m spending way too much on this or I’m not getting enough value for it,’ and opt out.”
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But getting a handle on subscriptions is a great way to free up cash that adds up quickly, especially as inflation rises and the number of services people sign up for increases.
A study by McKinsey & Co. found that as of November 2017, 46 percent of 5,093 US consumers surveyed subscribed to a media streaming service like Netflix, and 15 percent of online shoppers subscribed to an e-commerce service.
The average number of their subscriptions is two, but nearly 35 percent of respondents had three or more.
McKinsey is conducting new and Canada-focused research into how subscription habits have changed since the first two years of the pandemic, but Eizenman has already seen people becoming more aware of the value they derive from such services.
“People have said, ‘Unless I’m stuck at home 23 hours a day, I don’t really see any value in joining seven over-the-top subscription services,'” he said.
“They’re a lot more like saying – I’m going to have one because I’m going to go and meet friends.”
He’s also found that many suffer from “content fatigue,” where they don’t care about the money they spend on services, but the time they take.
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To manage what you subscribe to, use one credit card for all your subscriptions, said Gayle Ramsay, head of daily banking at BMO Financial Group.
“I actually took all mine and put them in one spot and it made a difference,” she said.
Consumers can also get help from their banks. Some, like BMO, have services or account features that notify customers when the amount they’re spending on subscriptions goes up.
If your bank doesn’t offer the service, there are apps — Truebill, Trim, SubscriptMe, and Bobby — for managing subscriptions.
Regardless of how you keep track, Greatrix recommends people regularly take stock of what they’re subscribed to and consider whether each service is still worth staying subscribed to.
If you think a service is still worth your money, she suggests looking for a way to turn off auto-renewal features so you can reassess the value every time you’re asked to pay again will.
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She also thinks people should mark auto-renewal dates on their calendars and set reminders so they know by when to cancel. Greatrix schedules these reminders at least a week before the auto-renewal date to give itself an additional buffer to cancel.
If you’re giving up service, don’t despair, Ramsay added. Sometimes you can find free alternatives to your subscription.
“A lot of libraries offer free journal subscriptions, so you might want to look at other ways you can actually access that subscription that don’t necessarily require you to pay a fee,” she said.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 19, 2022.
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