Didn’t Read the Fine Print? Join the Club

Subscription Box

A surge in membership product clubs highlights the importance of reading the fine print before splurging on a subscription box.

Interested in beauty, health, pets or food? Then there’s a subscription box out there for you! Companies such as Birchbox, Bark Box and POPSUGAR send out monthly packages of surprise goodies right to your door, usually based on your specific preferences.

A subscription box can be a great way to try new things, especially with the abundance of sample-sized products they send. But—as with anything popular—there are scammers ready and waiting to follow suit by creating similar offerings with a business model built on taking advantage of peoples’ inattention to details.

Among the reasons membership services like these appeal to scammers is that there is no guarantee about what products you will receive. They can also lure you in with free trials and first-time offers, which often mask significant reoccurring fees in the fine print that customers tend to overlook.

Fabletics, a membership-based active wear company, has come under fire for their bait-and-switch tactics and binding fine print. The company offers a VIP membership that gives a discount on a customer’s first order. However, in the detailed terms and conditions, it states there will be a $50 monthly fee if a member does not cancel or “skip” that month’s subscription box. Fabletics’ Facebook page is commonly bombarded with customer service complaints from people experiencing long wait times or technical difficulties when trying to cancel their membership.

Birchbox is a beauty product subscription box company that was the first to implement this interest-specific membership business model. Birchbox is not BBB accredited due to an unresolved complaint and their brief time in operation. They also have had some mild backlash regarding their refund policy and inadequate products.

Aloha is a supplement company that runs on a similar business model. They heavily advertise their free trail on social media. But if consumers who don’t cancel within 14 days are charged a monthly membership fee.

What should you do?

  • Read the fine print:
    The most important details are usually listed in the beginning of the fine print. Key points include associated fees, automatic renewals, trial duration, the refund and cancelation policy, and how personal information is used.
  • Never enter payment card information for free products:
    If the product were truly free, payment information would not be required. Payment and fee details are covered in the fine print. If you accept the terms and conditions when signing up, you may be liable for these charges.
  • Check out the cancelation process before you buy:
    Is there an online option to cancel or do you have to call customer service? If you need to contact a customer service representative, do a test call first to see whether the wait time is reasonable and if any special information is required.
  • Read the reviews:
    Look for unbiased, online reviews or ask your friends if they have enrolled in a particular company’s subscription box. Don’t necessarily trust reviews on social media as companies can easily moderate comments and many pay public figures to endorse their products on social media.
  • Review a company’s Better Business Bureau rating
    The BBB is a trusted source for evaluating a company’s reputation. If a problem is to arise, filing a complaint with the BBB can help you easily resolve the matter as well as warn future customers of unethical business practices.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of EZShield Inc. alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other person or entity, including specifically any person or entity affiliated with the distribution or display of this content.

John is General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer of Sontiq, the parent company of the EZShield and IdentityForce brands. He is a Certified Compliance...
Read more about John Burcham.

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