Sleazy Pricing by WSJ

Companies should be paid handsomely for the value they create.  They should NOT use deceitful pricing tactics in the process.  Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal caught me in their sleazy pricing practices.  Here is the story.

The WSJ notified me that my WSJ digital subscription would automatically renew.  No problem. I like the WSJ.  I scanned down the email and saw the renewal rate was $5.99/week.  I did the quick math, that’s MORE THAN $300 PER YEAR.  I’m sure I signed up for $99 per year.  What happened?

I searched my email history and saw last year it also auto-renewed at $311.  Wow, I didn’t even notice.  That was my fault.  It was my responsibility to read whatever fine print there was when I originally signed up saying the rate would go up 3 fold after the first year.  (I trust that there was disclosure since I can’t find the original offer.)

So far in the story the WSJ did nothing sleazy as long as it was clear that the $99 rate was for a limited time.

So I went online to cancel my online subscription.  The cancellation link is nowhere to be found.  I searched and searched but couldn’t find it. What could I do? I thought about calling my credit card company to refuse the charge.  I thought about just giving up.  How much time was I going to spend on this?  I even started thinking maybe $311 wasn’t too much for the subscription, surely what the WSJ was hoping for.  My frustration was building.  I finally decided to search their FAQ and found the following:

The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s – Cancellation requests for print and digital subscriptions are only accepted by phone. To cancel your subscription, please call 1-800-975-3913. Our hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 8am – 8pm Eastern Standard Time. For security reasons, your subscriptions cannot be canceled by email or online.

Seriously????  They can securely accept a subscription with credit card information on line but they can’t securely cancel it?

So I called and was put on hold for 8 agonizingly long minutes and 17 seconds.  This was more wasted time for a task that should have taken seconds online.  A nice lady answers the phone and asks for my email address and the answer to my security question.  Then says “Cancellation is not a problem”.  (Was that more secure?)

Then she asked “Can you tell us why you’re canceling? Management wants to know why we are losing readers.”  So I told her that the price was way more than I thought I signed up for.  Her reply, “Oh, you shouldn’t be paying that rate.  We just moved everyone to a monthly rate of $21.99.  I can offer you two free months.”

I declined.

Here is what I now think of the WSJ.  They were always a great company.  Relatively unbiased.  Honest.  Forthcoming.  In this single interaction they went from respectful to sleazy.  They used to be a a company that created value and charged fairly for it.  Now they are a company that relies on tricking their customers to stay.

Maybe in a declining industry that’s the only way they can survive.  Maybe they are desperate.  That’s unfortunate.

What should you learn from this story?  Don’t try to trick your customers.  When you are discovered (not if, when) it will create ill will.  Your customers will begin to dislike you and worse, they will tell others.

The best pricing advice:  Create real value.  Charge for that value. It’s OK to find ways to charge different customers different amounts, but not using deception.  Your customers are willing to pay for value.

Reject deception.  Win with value.

 

Mark Stiving, Ph.D. – Pricing Expert, Speaker, Author

Photo by CarbonNYC

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